Arthritis (Joint Pain) After Pregnancy: Causes And Tips To Manage

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Arthritis is a condition characterized by stiffening and swelling of joints resulting in decreased range of motion. Although this is a common geriatric problem, arthritis after pregnancy may occur in a few women. This condition could be due to physical changes after pregnancy and childbirth. It may be present for a few weeks or a few months after pregnancy. Postpartum arthritis may cause a lot of discomfort to the mother, and hence knowing the right treatment and caring measures could be helpful. Continue reading the post for more information.

Is Arthritis Common After Pregnancy?

Arthritis is common in people of all ages. It may aggravate after pregnancy and a few women are likely to experience arthritis flare-ups for some time after delivery (1). They may have postpartum joint pains in their wrists, hands, ankles, and feet.

Causes Of Arthritis After Delivery

New mothers may have postpartum joint pains or arthritis for the following reasons.

  • During pregnancy, most autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis or psoriatic arthritis, go into remission because of the vigorous antibody and cell-mediated immune responses. The symptoms may again flare up after pregnancy (2).
  • The immune system usually becomes stronger after pregnancy. The overactive immune system may lead to pre-existing allergies or autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), lupus, or psoriatic arthritis (3).
  • Age, genetics, obesity, physical inactivity, smoking, infections, occupation, and diet deficiencies may also lead to arthritis flare-ups during the postpartum period (4).

What Should You Do If You Have Postpartum Joint Pain or Arthritis?

Some measures that might help in managing and treating postpartum joint pain or arthritis are:

  1. See a doctor: Seek medical help if you already have arthritis. The doctor may give treatment to minimize pain, reduce joint damage, and improve the quality of life. You could only achieve them through regular follow-ups and by following the recommended treatment.
  1. Have a balanced diet: Work out a healthy diet plan with your nutritionist. Include low-calorie, low-fat foods, and plan your meals and snacks in a way that you are having a balanced diet.
  1. Manage your weight: Losing the excess weight and maintaining a healthy weight could be helpful if you have arthritis. It can lower the stress on joints, especially the hips and knees. Being overweight may also increase the risk of having arthritis.
  1. Stay active: Being physically active could relieve you from pain and improve your mood. It also decreases your chances of developing chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.
  1. Improve your self-management skills: You may join a self-management education program to learn skills to manage arthritis. It could help you gain control over your health, manage pain and its symptoms, reduce stress levels, improve mood, and communicate better with your doctor (5).
  1. Wear correct size comfortable footwear: Avoid high heels. Ensure the sole is soft and gives adequate cushioning.

Can You Get Rheumatoid Arthritis After Pregnancy?

There is a risk of developing autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis after pregnancy. Although there is no substantial evidence to support this claim, there is a belief that complex hormonal and immune-related shifts occur during and after pregnancy.  This could be a plausible reason for an increase in the rate of rheumatoid arthritis after pregnancy (6). However, pregnancy alone need not be a reason for getting RA, as other factors such as genetics play a more important role.

Does Breastfeeding Make Rheumatoid Arthritis Worse?

Breastfeeding may not worsen rheumatoid arthritis. But some mothers with RA may have severe pain while holding the baby for breastfeeding.

Does Postpartum Arthritis Go Away?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for arthritis. However, early treatment and a healthy lifestyle could help you manage the condition (7).And lead a near normal life.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How do you diagnose rheumatoid arthritis?

For rheumatoid arthritis, doctors can suggest the following tests (8) (9):

  • Physical examination to assess the swelling and movement of joints
  • Blood tests
    • Erythrocyte sedimentation rate to detect inflammation in the body
    • C-reactive protein to detect inflammation
    • Complete blood count to know about general health
    • Rheumatoid factor to check the antibody present in people with this condition
    • Anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide
  • Joint scans
    • X-rays
    • MRI
    • Ultrasound
  • Arthroscopy, where a thin tube with light and camera is inserted in the joint to detect bone disease and tumors

2. Can pregnancy cause arthritis flare-ups?

In some women, the pain and swelling associated with rheumatoid arthritis seem to reduce during pregnancy. However, some women do not notice any changes, while a few others notice worsening symptoms. Therefore, discussing your symptoms with your doctor and creating a precise treatment plan is important. Also, since pregnancy is generally associated with backaches and swelling, the symptoms should not be confused with rheumatoid arthritis (10).

Arthritis after pregnancy can get aggravated if you have a history of arthritis or if it is genetic. You must talk to a rheumatologist about its management during and after pregnancy to ensure it is under control. While postpartum joint pain or arthritis cannot be cured, you can still take specific measures to manage it. It includes following a healthy lifestyle and taking a balanced diet. It is of great help to avoid inflammatory foods and be regular with any form of physical activity that you enjoy. Also, keep in mind not to cause excessive strain on your body.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. Pregnancy and Arthritis; Department of Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine – University of Washington
2. Beagley KW and Gockle CM; Regulation of innate and adaptive immunity by the female sex hormones oestradiol and progesterone; FEMS Immunol Med Microbiol (2003).
3. Immune System; healthdirect – Australian Government – Department of Health
4. What Are Common Symptoms of Autoimmune Disease; Johns Hopkins Medicine
5.5 Proven Ways to Manage Arthritis; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
6. Brittany Buening, Hendrickson S, and Smith C; Relationship between Pregnancy and Development of Autoimmune Diseases; Journal of Womens Health, Issues and Care (2017)
7. Treatment – Rheumatoid arthritis; NHS
8. Diagnosis-Rheumatoid arthritis; NHS
9. Arthritis Diagnosis; Johns Hopkins
10. Rheumatoid arthritis & pregnancy; National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society
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Dr. Sangeeta Agrawal

(FRCOG, MD, DNB, DGO)
Dr. Sangeeta Agrawal worked in Royal London, St. Bartholomew’s, North Middlesex and Barnet General hospitals in London. Currently, she runs her own clinic in Mumbai. She is also attached to Bhatia Hospital, Breach Candy Hospital, Wockhardt Hospital, and Global Hospital. Her areas of expertise include obstetrics and gynecology, involving teenage care, antenatal, intrapartum, post-natal care, painless labor, fertility control, menopause... more

Rebecca Malachi

Rebecca is a pregnancy writer and editor with a passion for delivering research-based and engaging content in areas of fertility, pregnancy, birth, and post-pregnancy. She has been into health and wellness writing since 2010. She received her graduate degree in Biotechnology and Genetics from Loyola Academy, Osmania University and obtained a certification in ‘Nutrition and Lifestyle in Pregnancy’ from Ludwig... more