Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms, Causes, and Risk Factors

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder that can affect more than just your joints, such as the skin, eyes, lungs, heart, and blood vessels. But unlike the wear-and-tear damage of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis affects the lining of your joints, causing painful swelling that can potentially result in bone erosion and joint deformity. This happens because your immune system attacks the synovium, which is the lining of the membranes that surround your joints. The inflammation that follows thickens the synovium and can eventually destroy the cartilage and bone within the joint. The tendons and ligaments that hold the joint together weaken and stretch, causing the joint to gradually lose its shape and alignment.


Symptoms can include the following:

  • Fatigue

  • Joint pain, tenderness, swelling, redness, warmth, stiffness

  • Loss of joint range of motion

  • Limping

  • Joint deformity

  • Both sides of the body affected (symmetric)

  • Loss of joint function

  • Anemia

  • Fever

  • Depression

Symptoms and signs of rheumatoid arthritis may vary in severity, or they may come and go. Over time, rheumatoid arthritis may cause joints to deform and shift out of place. Make an appointment with your doctor if you have persistent discomfort and swelling in your joints.


Doctors are unsure of what starts the process of rheumatoid arthritis, but a genetic component appears likely. Your genes are not the cause, but they can make you more susceptible to environmental factors such as infection with certain viruses and bacteria. This can potentially trigger the disease.

Risk Factors

Women are more likely than men to develop rheumatoid arthritis. It can occur at any age, but most commonly begins in middle age. Your family history can be a factor as well; if a member of your family has rheumatoid arthritis, you may have an increased risk. Cigarette smoking can increase your risk, especially if you have a genetic predisposition for developing the disease. 

How Can Physical Therapy Help?

Improvement of symptoms and function are common with physical therapy. Treatment focuses on exercises and manual treatment to improve range of motion, flexibility, joint mobility, and strength. It will also help patients learn to modify their activities to be more joint-friendly. Our Aquatic Therapy program has a positive impact on motion and flexibility, reduces pressure to joints, and can increase the blood flow to the pained areas. 

Peak Physical Therapy

At Peak Physical Therapy & Sports Performance, our four convenient locations give you greater access to the South Shore's best physical therapy services. The locations include Norwell, MA, Scituate, MA, Quincy, MA, and Hanover, MA. Our state-of-the-art facilities include access to the best treatments and equipment to ensure a fast recovery. We've even expanded our facilities to include access to therapy pools as well as indoor sports fields. If you're unsure whether physical therapy can help you, we offer a no-obligation FREE injury screening. Click here for more information.

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Norwell, MA
Scituate, MA
Quincy, MA
Hanover, MA
Braintree, MA
Pembroke, MA


Hanover, MA
  • Healthtrax Health Club
  • 20 East St.
  • Hanover, MA 02339
  • Phone/Text: 781-347-4686
Scituate, MA
  • Scituate Health and Racquet Club
  • 1004 Chief Justice Cushing Hwy
  • Scituate, MA 02066
  • Phone/Text: 781-378-2352
Weymouth, MA
  • Weymouth Club
  • 75 Finnell Drive
  • Weymouth, MA 02188
  • Phone/Text: 781-986-0990


Norwell, MA
  • Women's Health
  • 99 Longwater Circle
  • Suite 203
  • Norwell, MA 02061
  • Phone/Text 781-347-4686
Scituate, MA
Quincy, MA
Braintree, MA