Can Numbness and Tingling be Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an inflammatory, autoimmune disease that mainly affects the joints. In some cases, joint inflammation from rheumatoid arthritis can spread to surrounding nerves, leading to nerve damage, numbness, and tingling sensations.

Symptoms like numbness and tingling shouldn't be ignored as these are signs of a disease complication or that your rheumatoid arthritis is worsening.

This article discusses the connection between rheumatoid arthritis and numbness and tingling and how to find relief.

Woman massaging painful wrist

Peter Dazeley / Getty Images

What Are Numbness and Tingling?

Numbness and tingling can either occur apart or together, depending on the conditions that cause them. Numbness is a loss of sensation in one or more parts of the body.

Tingling can be mild to severe and usually feels like a "pins and needles" sensation you may experience when your limbs are asleep. Tingling most commonly occurs in areas of the body, such as the arms, legs, hands, fingers, feet, or toes.

Symptoms of numbness and tingling in rheumatoid arthritis can vary based on the extent of damage or compression to nerves, but can include the following:

  • Loss of sensation 
  • Pins and needles
  • Burning sensation
  • Prickling feeling in the skin
  • Muscle weakness
  • Skin sensitivity

When Should I Seek Emergency Care for Numbness and Tingling?

Numbness and tingling in the extremities can be signs of more serious conditions, such as a stroke or heart attack. Seek emergency care if your numbness and tingling occurs suddenly or is accompanied by weakness, slurred speech, dizziness, chest pains, blurry vision, abnormal heart rhythms, or serious headache.

Are Numbness and Tingling Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis?

When the inflammation of joints from rheumatoid arthritis affects nearby nerves, it can lead to nerve damage or compression that can result in symptoms of numbness and tingling.


Neuropathy is nerve damage or dysfunction of one or more nerves, affecting how nerve cells can communicate with each other and the brain. It can result in physical symptoms like numbness and tingling in the affected areas.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory, autoimmune condition that causes the body to create antibodies that attack healthy joints. This results in joint pain, inflammation, and swelling affecting the joints and surrounding ligaments and nerves.

Over time, cartilage breaks down, narrowing the space between bones, and joints can become unstable or stiff. In addition, the ligaments that connect bones to support joints also become inflamed, causing them to become lax and less able to provide support to the joints. This can cause joints to shift out of proper alignment.

If left untreated, rheumatoid arthritis can cause permanent and irreversible joint damage.

Because of these inflammatory changes to joints and surrounding structures, several other conditions that affect parts of the nervous system are often linked with rheumatoid arthritis, including:

  • Carpel tunnel syndrome
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Autonomic neuropathy
  • Spinal cord compression

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve that passes through the wrist from the arm to the hand becomes compressed, resulting in numbness, tingling, and weakness in the fingers. The median nerve passes through the carpal tunnel that's formed from the carpal bones of the wrist and finger flexor tendons.

Because rheumatoid arthritis commonly affects the wrists, causing bone destruction and ligament laxity, the height of the carpal tunnel often becomes narrowed, causing increased pressure on the median nerve within the carpal tunnel.

Peripheral Neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy results from damage to the peripheral nervous system that is made up of the many nerves of the body, including those of the arms and legs, that send signals to and from the brain and spinal cord.

Peripheral nerves transmit both sensory information, such as feelings of pressure, pain, and temperature, and motor function information to contract and relax muscles. The hands and feet are most commonly affected by peripheral neuropathy.

A small study investigating peripheral neuropathy in people with rheumatoid arthritis suggests that peripheral neuropathy can occur in up to one-third of people with the autoimmune condition and that the risk increases with age.

There are multiple causes of peripheral neuropathy that can result in nerve pain in the hands and feet in people with rheumatoid arthritis. These include:

Autonomic Neuropathy

Autonomic neuropathy occurs with damage to the nerves that control your internal organs.

While the exact cause underlying autonomic neuropathy in rheumatoid arthritis isn't fully known, circulating autoantibodies and increased inflammatory proteins are thought to damage the vagus nerve.

Autonomic neuropathy can cause paresthesia, or a burning or prickling feeling in the limbs, as well as numbness and tingling.

Spinal Cord Compression

Rheumatoid arthritis of the spine can cause inflammation and joint space narrowing within the spinal vertebrae, which can lead to spinal cord compression and result in nerve pain, weakness, numbness, and tingling.

If compression occurs in the cervical spine of the neck, symptoms are usually experienced in the arms, while if compression occurs in the lumbar spine of the low back, symptoms often occur in the legs. 

Where Do Symptoms Occur?

Symptoms most commonly occur in the hands, feet, and limbs.

Treatments and Management of Numbness and Tingling

Regular physical activity and stretching can help improve joint mobility, increase flexibility, and decrease nerve compression to help treat numbness and tingling.

Specific muscles to focus on stretching to relieve muscle tightness and potential nerve compression include:

Additionally, nerve glides, also called nerve flossing, can help decrease nerve tension and improve the mobility of nerves to help reduce compression. Nerve flossing can be used to target the following nerves:

Treating peripheral neuropathy can depend on its underlying cause. Other times, treatment focuses on managing symptoms. Options for managing peripheral neuropathy include:

Healthy Habits for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Healthy habits that can help decrease inflammation throughout your body include regular exercise, following an anti-inflammatory diet, coping and managing stress effectively, and having adequate social support from friends and family members.

When to See Your Healthcare Professional

Numbness and tingling can occur for a variety of different reasons, some more urgent than others.  It’s a good idea to seek your healthcare provider if your numbness and tingling: 

  • Occurs for no obvious reason 
  • Makes it hard to move
  • Persists for more than a few hours 
  • Occurs intermittently 
  • Leads to a cold feeling 
  • Leads to shooting pain in affected and surrounding areas 

Rheumatoid vasculitis, an inflammation of the blood vessels, is a rare but serious complication of RA. It can cause numbness and tingling along with the following symptoms:

  • Skin sores
  • Purple bruises
  • Muscle weakness
  • Tingling and pain
  • Eye redness
  • Blurry vision
  • Chest pain
  • Abnormal heart rhythms

Early diagnosis can prevent serious complications. Call your healthcare provider immediately if you notice any of these symptoms.


Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory autoimmune disease. In some cases, inflammation of the joints from rheumatoid arthritis can affect nearby nerves, leading to nerve damage or compression that can result in symptoms of numbness and tingling.

Regular physical activity and stretching can help improve joint mobility, increase flexibility, and decrease nerve compression to help treat numbness and tingling. Other healthy habits like following an anti-inflammatory diet and managing stress effectively can help reduce inflammation in the body.

Treatment for numbness and tingling from rheumatoid arthritis is reliant on managing the underlying cause of nerve compression. It can include physical therapy, OTC treatments, and prescription medication, to name a few.

A Word From Verywell

Numbness and tingling in rheumatoid arthritis may indicate a complication or disease progression. Prevention is key to decreasing the likelihood of developing numbness and tingling from rheumatoid arthritis. Make sure you stay on top of your medical management and follow healthy lifestyle habits to decrease widespread inflammation.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does rheumatoid arthritis cause pins and needles?

    Rheumatoid arthritis can cause pins and needles sensations if joint inflammation spreads to surrounding nerves, causing nerve compression, damage, and inflammation.

  • Can you get neuropathy from rheumatoid arthritis?

    Because inflammation and joint damage from rheumatoid arthritis can progress to nerve damage, neuropathy can develop from rheumatoid arthritis. Neuropathy can also develop as a negative side effect of certain drugs like tumor necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitors used to decrease inflammation in autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.

  • What does rheumatoid arthritis feel like in feet?

    Rheumatoid arthritis can cause feelings of pain, stiffness, and swelling in the feet if the foot and ankle joints are affected. If you develop peripheral neuropathy with rheumatoid arthritis, you may also feel pain, tingling, numbness, burning, and pins and needles sensations.

  • How do you tell if you have rheumatoid arthritis in your hands?

    A diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis is made based on a combination of X-rays and bloodwork to check for elevated levels of inflammatory markers in the blood. Other than symptoms of joint pain, stiffness, and swelling in the finger joints, rheumatoid arthritis may also cause visual joint deformities including boutonniere deformities, swan neck deformities, and ulnar deviation.

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Cleveland Clinic. Neuropathy (peripheral neuropathy).

  3. Sakthiswary R, Singh R. Has the median nerve involvement in rheumatoid arthritis been overemphasized? Rev Bras Reumatol Engl Ed. 2017;57(2):122-128. doi:10.1016/j.rbre.2016.09.001

  4. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Peripheral neuropathy fact sheet.

  5. Sim MK, Kim DY, Yoon J, Park DH, Kim YG. Assessment of peripheral neuropathy in patients with rheumatoid arthritis who complain of neurologic symptoms. Ann Rehabil Med. 2014;38(2):249-255. doi:10.5535/arm.2014.38.2.249

  6. Kaeley N, Ahmad S, Pathania M, Kakkar R. Prevalence and patterns of peripheral neuropathy in patients of rheumatoid arthritisJ Family Med Prim Care. 2019;8(1):22-26. doi:10.4103/jfmpc.jfmpc_260_18

  7. Syngle V, Syngle A, Garg N, Krishan P, Verma I. Predictors of autonomic neuropathy in rheumatoid arthritis. Auton Neurosci. 2016;201:54-59. doi:10.1016/j.autneu.2016.07.008 

  8. Cedars Sinai. Rheumatoid vasculitis.

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By Kristen Gasnick, PT, DPT
Kristen Gasnick, PT, DPT, is a medical writer and a physical therapist at Holy Name Medical Center in New Jersey.