Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disease which can affect almost all the joints of the body, including the neck and the back. Damage to the spine by rheumatoid arthritis leads to neck or back pain and sometimes to nerve or spinal cord compression. The symptoms of nerve compression are shooting pain with numbness, tingling and weakness in arms or legs. If the spinal cord is involved there is numbness in the hands, clumsiness of the fingers and unsteadiness of the legs.
Surgical management of such problems is a delicate one because of associated systemic disease and the powerful medications used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Fusion procedures can be effective in relieving most symptoms, but the risks are higher than with the more common degenerative conditions.