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

✔ Research-backed

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.

In This Article

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 or joint inflammation, after childbirth (1).They may have postpartum joint disorders that may cause pain in their wrists, hands, ankles, and feet.

According to gynecologist & obstetrician Dr. Nisarg Patel, “Pregnancy arthritis usually goes away after delivery, but some women may continue to have symptoms for a few months or longer. If your joint pain and stiffness persist beyond six weeks of delivery or interfere with your daily activities, you should see your doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment.”

protip_icon Quick fact
Changes in the immune system is responsible for remission of arthritis in pregnancy and flare ups in the postpartum period (11).

Causes Of Arthritis After Delivery

New mothers may have postnatal joint discomfort or arthritis for the following reasons.

  • During pregnancy, most autoimmune diseasesiRelated to conditions where the immune system attacks the body’s healthy cells due to a malfunction , such as rheumatoid arthritis or psoriatic arthritisiType of arthritis seen in people with psoriasis, which is also an autoimmune condition causing itchy, red patches on the skin , 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), lupusiA condition in which the immune system attacks its tissues, causing inflammation , or psoriatic arthritis (3).
Overactive immune system may cause rheumatoid arthritis after pregnancy

Image: Shutterstock

  • Age, genetics, obesity, physical inactivity, smoking, infections, occupation, and diet deficiencies may also lead to arthritis flare-ups during the postpartum period (4).
  • Cartilage is a firm tissue that protects your bones and joints and an eventual cartilage damage can lead to osteoarthritis where bones rub against bones.

Although postpartum musculoskeletal pain often results from injuries to bones or ligaments, it can also be associated with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

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

Some measures that might help in managing and treating postpartum joint stiffness 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.
protip_icon Quick tip
Discuss with your doctor and plan your medications based on breastfeeding schedule to minimize its effects on babies (12).
  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. According to the US CDC’s Prevalence of Arthritis and Arthritis-Attributable Activity Limitation Report 2016–2018, about 28.8% of adults who are obese experience 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.
Being physically active can relieve postpartum joint pain

Image: Shutterstock

  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 changes and immune-related shifts occur during and after pregnancy. This could be a plausible reason for an increase in the rate of postpartum rheumatism (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?

Mothers with RA may have severe pain while breastfeeding

Image: Shutterstock

Breastfeeding may not worsen rheumatoid arthritis. But some mothers with RA may have chronic 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 joint mobility
  • Blood tests
    • Erythrocyte sedimentation rateiA blood test used to check for inflammation in the body to detect inflammation in the body
    • C-reactive proteiniA liver protein, the presence of which indicates an inflammation 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 peptideiType of antibodies used as biomarkers for the detection of rheumatoid arthritis
  • 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).

3. Can breastfeeding impact the likelihood of developing arthritis after pregnancy?

According to studies, hormonal influences such as an elevated level of prolactin, a proinflammatory hormone during breastfeeding, may significantly increase the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis (13). However, more research will be needed to validate this claim.

4. What lifestyle changes can help manage arthritis after pregnancy?

Certain lifestyle changes such as exercising regularly, quitting smoking, limiting the intake of alcohol, and taking rest are some of them to manage arthritis (14). If you see uncontrollable symptoms due to recurring flare-ups after pregnancy, speak with your doctor.

5. Can arthritis after pregnancy affect future pregnancies?

The usage of certain medications for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis has been shown to result in impaired fertility. Furthermore, the treatment options are limited during pregnancy, making flare-ups common after pregnancy (15). Therefore, it is better to consult with your doctor if you wish to conceive before any future pregnancies.

6. How long does it take for arthritis after pregnancy to resolve?

Arthritis, before or after pregnancy, has no cure; hence, limiting pain and managing symptoms is the only treatment plan available (16). Consult with your rheumatologist to undertake a specific symptom management plan for your case.

7. Can stress during pregnancy increase the risk of developing arthritis after pregnancy?

No medical evidence indicates a relationship between stress and the development of arthritis in mothers after pregnancy. However, first-time mothers may feel generally stressed or the post-partum blues after a few weeks of delivery (17). Therefore, feel free to contact your family to help you during this time.

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 inflammation and 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.

Infographic: What You Should Know About Postpartum Arthritis?

Arthritis can be suppressed during pregnancy due to biochemical changes in the body. However, postpartum comes with an exacerbation of the condition. Timely management could help to deal with flares better. Go through the infographic to learn about postpartum arthritis.

postpartum arthritis (infographic)

Illustration: Momjunction Design Team

Key Pointers

  • Pregnancy and childbirth can cause arthritis, which makes joints stiff and swollen.
  • Arthritis can improve during pregnancy, but worsen after birth due to changes in the immune system.
  • After giving birth, arthritis can also develop due to various factors such as aging, genetics, obesity, lack of physical activity, smoking, infections, occupation, and poor nutrition.
  • Breastfeeding may not worsen rheumatoid arthritis after pregnancy, but some mothers with rheumatoid arthritis may experience severe pain while breastfeeding.

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
11. Sana Qureshi, et al; New diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis during the third trimester of pregnancy; NCBI (2016)
12. Pregnancy And Arthritis; UW Medicine
13. Breast-feeding and the onset of rheumatoid arthritis; NCBI
14. Lifestyle Changes for Rheumatoid Arthritis; NYU Langone
15. Current perspectives on fertility, pregnancy and childbirth in patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis; Science Direct
16. Baby Blues and Postpartum Depression: Mood Disorders and Pregnancy; Johns Hopkins Medicine

Was this article helpful?
Like buttonDislike button
The following two tabs change content below.
Dr. Sangeeta Agrawal

Dr. Sangeeta AgrawalFRCOG, MD, DNB, DGO

Dr. Sangeeta Agrawal is an obstetrician and gynecologist with around 29 years of experience in the field. She worked in Royal London, St. Bartholomew’s, North Middlesex, and Barnet General hospitals in London and currently runs her clinic in Mumbai. She is also attached to Bhatia Hospital, Breach Candy Hospital, Wockhardt Hospital, and Global Hospital. Her areas of expertise include obstetrics...read full bio