According to the Arthritis Center, Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a painful chronic disease characterized by inflammation of the joints. The autoimmune disease typically progresses in three main stages: swelling of the synovial lining (causing pain around joints); pannus (rapid growth of cells); and inflammation and release of enzymes that digest bone and cartilage. The third stage often causes loss of movement and is sometimes characterized by the joints freezing up, limiting mobility.
Morning stiffness is when a person wakes up frozen in place, feeling stiff, and has pain for at least an hour. This is one of the most common symptoms of RA, and is different from osteoarthritis, which usually only affects a person for a half an hour. When this freezing occurs, the person feels most of the pain in the hands, wrists, knees and feet. Many of the affected joint areas feel swollen and warm. Movement may become easier after stretching. Some people also have the accompanying symptoms of fever, weakness and fatigue.
Stiff Neck and Jaw
Some people affected by RA lose movement in the neck (cervical spine) and feel stiffness to the point of restricted movement. Inflamed ligaments around the spinal cord or problems with the nervous system may cause this. Many people also experience their jaws freezing up when attempting to eat or drink.
RA freezing can also affect the shoulders. This part of the body is not used as often as other areas, such as the arms and legs, and can freeze up quickly due to the inactivity. When the shoulders freeze up, all motion in the upper chest area is restricted and may cause difficulties in daily activities, such as driving or housework.
Loss of Use of Wrists and Hands
Most people affected by RA have frozen joints in the wrists. This can affect daily activities, such as working. Fingers and knuckles often freeze up with RA and become unable to fully open or bend. Fingers may appear dislocated if the tendons slip out of place. Typically, only the joints in the middle of hand and fingers freeze, while the tips of the fingers do not.
Loss of Movement in Knees, Feet and Ankles
Knees may freeze up with RA, restricting the movement between sitting and standing. This may occur after sitting or inactivity for a long period of time. The sole of the foot can also feel numb while walking because the joints in the middle of it have frozen up. Toes may freeze up like fingers and appear dislocated as well.