Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) usually affects the joints in the cervical spine; the neck. The first vertebra, called the atlas, supports the weight of the head (just as the Greek god Atlas carried the weight of the world on his shoulders).
Beneath the atlas is the axis, which helps the atlas rotate and gives the neck its ability to move at different angles. A bony projection called the odontoid process or the dens—because its shape appears tooth-like, enables the atlas to pivot. This structure helps your head to nod and turn side-to-side. The atlantoaxial joint sits between the atlas and the axis and is a common place where RA may develop in the spine. However, rheumatoid arthritis may affect any joint in the spinal column.
Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
A characteristic of RA is it can affect any of the body’s joints, and symptoms range from mild to severe, and vary from episodic to chronic. Rheumatoid arthritis is often associated with flares (when symptoms are active or worse) and periods of remission when symptoms improve. Unfortunately, in some patients, RA can become progressive and destructive, and may cause spinal deformity (or deformity of an affect joint beyond the spine).
Symptoms may include:
Furthermore, some patients with rheumatoid arthritis develop rheumatoid nodules (small bumps beneath the skin, especially near the elbows), fluid retention (edema, especially around the ankles), anemia (low red blood cell count), and dry eyes or dry mouth. Rarely, other body systems may be affected.