Chronic pain is highly prevalent in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and can cause various physical and psychological impairments. Unfortunately, the appropriate diagnosis of chronic pain syndromes in this population can be challenging because pain may be primary to RA-specific inflammation and/or secondary to other conditions, typically osteoarthritis (OA) and fibromyalgia (FM). This disparity further poses a clinical challenge, given that chronic pain can often be discordant or undetected with standard RA-specific surveillance strategies, including serological markers and imaging studies. In this review, we provide a robust exploration of chronic pain in the RA population with emphasis on epidemiology, mechanisms, and management strategies.
Chronic pain associated with RA typically occurs in patients with anxiety, female sex, and elevated inflammatory status. Up to 50% of these patients are thought to have chronic pain despite appropriate inflammatory suppression, typically due to peripheral and central sensitization as well as secondary OA and FM. In addition to the standard-of-care management for OA and FM, patients with RA and chronic pain benefit from behavioral and psychological treatment options. Moreover, early and multimodal therapies, including non-pharmacological, pharmacological, interventional, and surgical strategies, exist, albeit with varying efficacy, to help suppress inflammation, provide necessary analgesia, and optimize functional outcomes. Overall, chronic pain in RA is a difficult entity for both patients and providers. Early diagnosis, improved understanding of its mechanisms, and initiation of early, targeted approaches to pain control may help to improve outcomes in this population.

© 2021. The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.