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What are arthritis nodules?

What are Arthritis Nodules?

Arthritis nodules are firm lumps of inflammatory tissue, varying in size, that can appear under the skin in people living with rheumatoid arthritis. They usually develop in overexposed joints, such as fingers and elbows, and affect up to 20% of patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Herbeden’s nodes are bony swellings that develop in the joints of your fingers and differs from rheumatoid arthritis.

Osteoarthritis: Heberden’s Nodes

There are several factors that can contribute to Herbeden’s nodes developing. These include:

  • Hereditary conditions that affect the joints
  • Having osteoarthritis elsewhere in the body, particularly in the knee
  • Rheumatoid arthritis, which can cause joint and cartilage changes in the fingers and elsewhere
  • Gout, which can cause erosion of the bones around overexposed joints
  • Having a family history of Herbeden’s nodes
  • Obesity, as this may increase stress on overexposed joints
  • Participating in high-impact sports, or activities that involve repetitive movement

There is no existing cure for Herbeden’s nodes, but there are several measures that can be taken to reduce discomfort and relieve stiffness. These include:

  • Lifestyle changes. Being overweight puts extra stress on joints; consider low-impact exercise options that don’t put too much demand on your joints, and try to make small, consistent changes to your lifestyle.
  • Painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen can help in managing symptoms and reducing pain, as can anti-inflammatories and capsaicin creams. Your doctor may even give you a prescription for a stronger painkiller such as codeine.
  • Medical therapies. There are a range of supportive therapies which can be used to help treat Herbeden’s nodes, including manual therapy, hot or cold packs, assistive devices and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS).

What are rheumatoid nodules?

Rheumatoid nodules are firm lumps that develop under the skin. They typically form close to overexposed joints in people living with rheumatoid arthritis, and range in size from around 2 millimetres to 5 centimetres.

The most common locations for rheumatoid nodules are the hands, fingers, knuckles and elbows, although they can be found elsewhere. They are generally not painful unless located near an existing inflammation or a nerve.

Rheumatoid nodules aren’t a cause for concern for most people, but in some instances they can restrict flexibility and movement or cause mild discomfort.

The causes

Rheumatoid nodules form as a result of rheumatoid arthritis, although medical professionals still aren’t entirely sure as to why. A person will typically get rheumatoid nodules after having had rheumatoid arthritis for several years.

There are several factors that might increase your chances of developing rheumatoid nodules, including:

  • Smoking. Research suggests there is a strong association between smoking and rheumatoid nodules in early rheumatoid arthritis. This is particularly true for people who have smoked for 20 years or longer.
  • Length of condition. The longer you live with rheumatoid arthritis, the more likely it is that you’ll develop nodules.
  • Studies have shown that having certain immune response genes can increase the risk of getting rheumatoid arthritis
  • Severity of condition. Those who experience more severe rheumatoid arthritis are also more likely to develop nodules.
  • Sex. Women are more likely to develop nodules than men, and they’re also more likely to develop nodules earlier.

If you need support with arthritis care, don’t hesitate to contact us today.

Page reviewed by Carole Kerton-Church, Regional Clinical Lead on November 23, 2021