What Is the Best Treatment for Rheumatoid Nodules?

Medically Reviewed on 10/20/2022
Best Treatment for Rheumatoid Nodules
Rheumatoid nodules frequently appear several years after the onset of rheumatoid arthritis.

In most circumstances, nodules do not necessitate any therapy; however, one of the most effective therapies for nodules is to manage rheumatoid arthritis in general with standard immune-modifying medicines.

  • Certain medications that suppress the inflammatory protein IL-6 may be particularly effective.
  • The doctor may recommend injecting steroids into the nodule or surgically removing nodules that are treatment-resistant, infected, deformed, or disabling.
  • The doctor may also recommend patients consult an occupational therapist for assistance with nodule-related concerns.

What are the common treatment options for rheumatoid nodules?

There has been a minimal study in this field. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) nodules may not require treatment. However, treatment is essential if they become noticeable, cause discomfort, hinder activities, or cause infection.

There are no available guidelines to treat rheumatoid nodules. Treatment of rheumatoid nodules might also be difficult as certain RA medicines can act against the nodules. Treatment options are mainly focused on nodules that cause symptoms or functional issues

Drug therapies

  • Common RA drug therapies, such as anti-TNF treatment or other immunosuppressive drugs, may help manage the symptoms of nodules (mild).
  • Because rheumatoid nodules can cause pain or nerve entrapment, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may be sufficient to treat some symptoms.
  • Drug therapies, such as corticosteroid therapy, have been shown to reduce nodular size; however, they can also increase the risk of infection.
  • Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs can shrink rheumatoid nodules. If methotrexate treatment is thought to be the cause of the nodules, a change in medication regimen may be beneficial; however, this decision must be made carefully on an individual basis.
  • A combination of disease-modifying therapies and biological therapies, particularly involving rituximab, appear to cause reduced nodule formation. If micronodules develop while taking methotrexate, hydroxychloroquine, and other disease-modifying drugs, such as prednisolone, may help reduce their size.?


  • Currently, local corticosteroid injections appear to be the most researched treatment for rheumatoid nodules.
  • Injections of glucocorticoids (steroids) may aid in the shrinkage of nodules. However, there is a risk of infection.


  • Surgery may be required if rheumatoid nodules become infected or cause severe symptoms. However, there is a risk of recurrence.
  • Surgery to remove the nodule is usually recommended only when the skin is eroding or necrotizing.
  • Consult a doctor to ensure that surgery is necessary. These treatments may increase the risk of infection and nodule recurrence.

Physical therapy

  • Physical therapy is essential for maintaining mobility and reducing pain. Nodules that are painful or pose a cosmetic concern can be surgically removed; however, doctors rarely recommend surgical removal of a nodule because they recur.

No treatment

  • When RA is well controlled, rheumatoid nodules can sometimes resolve on their own without the need for medical or surgical intervention

Alternative medicine for the treatment of rheumatoid nodule

  • Few studies have reported that regular intake of fish oil through diet and supplements may lower the risk of nodules in patients with existing RA.
  • Recent research has suggested that practicing tai chi therapy that involves gentle exercises and stretches combined with deep breathing to relieve stress may also help reduce the severity of nodules.

Rheumatoid nodules most commonly present as a cosmetic complaint. Treatment indications include areas subjected to repetitive trauma, as well as nodules on weight-bearing prominences that can cause progressive erosions and severe pain, neuropathy, movement restriction, deformity, and damage to underlying structures.

Some nodules rupture, resulting in deep infections. Dermatologists can treat nodules that are infected, ulcerated, painful, or immobilizing.


The term arthritis refers to stiffness in the joints. See Answer

What are rheumatoid nodules?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune condition that damages the lining of joints, triggering severe inflammation and swelling. In certain patients, the disorder can also damage other regions of the body, such as the lungs and eyes. Although RA can cause a wide range of symptoms, rheumatoid nodules are considered a visual sign of RA.

  • Rheumatoid nodules are hard lumps that can appear beneath the skin in patients with RA.
  • They are usually seen at the joints and range in size from a few millimeters to several centimeters.
  • Some of these solid lumps of tissue are asymptomatic, but others might be painful depending on where they occur in the body.
  • However, nodules of RA are more an aesthetic issue rather than a physically disabling one.

RA nodules are one of the most significant symptoms of RA that occur outside of the joints. According to research, up to 40 percent of individuals with RA develop nodules at some time. Nodules may usually appear after patients experience the arthritic symptoms of RA for several years.

Autoimmune conditions, such as RA, develop when the immune system unintentionally targets the body. RA's primary target is the joints, but it can also cause inflammation elsewhere, such as under the skin, in the form of nodules. It is believed that the nodules form in reaction to skin irritation, which may explain why they are typically (but not always) seen in regions of skin that undergo a lot of wear and tear, such as around the elbows, hands, and feet

Nodules can also form in places other than the skin, such as the eyes, lungs, heart valves, or vocal cords. Other dependent parts of the body, such as the Achilles tendon, heel region, hips, sacrum, and back of the scalp, may be affected, particularly in bedridden individuals.

What are the causes of and risk factors for rheumatoid nodules?

Rheumatoid nodules frequently appear several years after the onset of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Experts are unsure why these tumors form.

Recent research and studies, on the other hand, investigate potential causes and risk factors, which include:

  • Severe RA
    • Rheumatoid nodules form as a result of RA, a chronic inflammatory disease caused by the immune system mistaking the synovium (the flexible membrane that lines the joints) as a threat. Misdirected antibody assaults can result in RA symptoms, such as inflammation, bone erosion, and joint deformity.
    • The inflammation can cause hard lumps or nodules to form beneath the skin. Nodules typically arise following joint discomfort.
  • RH factor
    • Individuals with elevated rheumatoid factors (proteins in the blood that cause autoimmune disorders, such as RA and Sjögren's syndrome) are more prone to develop nodules.
    • Nodules occur in about 40 percent of people with high levels of rheumatoid factor.
    • Rheumatoid nodules are also a marker of inflammation and increased immune system activity, and they are more common in people with severe or poorly managed arthritis.
    • Almost all patients with nodules will test positive for rheumatoid factor, and studies have reported that when RA is associated with a positive rheumatoid factor test, the condition may be more aggressive.
  • Taking methotrexate or other arthritis drugs
    • Methotrexate, an immune-modulating medication used to treat RA, can also cause nodule development, a condition known as accelerated nodulosis. 
    • Accelerated nodulosis is characterized by the rapid growth of rheumatoid nodules. This syndrome is commonly seen on the feet, hands, and ears in 8 to 12 percent of patients with RA.
  • Trauma or near pressure point
    • Rheumatoid nodules are more prone to form on pressure points, wounds, or bruising.
  • Smoking
    • According to research, people who smoke are more likely to acquire rheumatoid nodules.
  • Other risk factors
    • Age between 40 and 60 years
    • Women are more susceptible to rheumatoid nodules than man
    • A family history of RA
    • Obesity
    • Exposure to chemicals, such as asbestos or silica
    • Certain infections such as periodontitis and viral infections may trigger rheumatoid nodules

Most dermatologists detect rheumatoid nodules by physical examination and a history of RA in the patient. A high rheumatoid factor can be confirmed by blood tests. Patients who develop nodules are more prone to other extra-articular (outside of the joint) rheumatoid symptoms, such as vasculitis (inflammation of blood vessels) and lung disease.

Rarely, rheumatoid nodules can form in the lungs. These are typically asymptomatic but can cause concern due to uncertainty about the diagnosis and may necessitate additional tests, such as a CT scan.

What are the common signs and symptoms of rheumatoid nodules?

Nodules can be asymptomatic or painful, but they are generally not a cause for concern unless they interfere with daily activities by pressing on nerves or restricting joint mobility. Organ function can be hampered by rheumatoid nodules in organs, such as the heart and lungs.

The following are common signs and symptoms of rheumatoid nodules:

  • They are firm and usually painless.
  • They may be attached to underlying structures, such as bones or tendons.
  • The skin around the nodules is colorless, but they have a shiny appearance.
  • Most of the nodules are the size of a pea to a walnut.
  • Nodules may hurt or ache if they press on a nerve or develop an infection.
  • Large nodules or those positioned on delicate skin, such as the palms of the hands or soles of the feet, can be more painful.

Nodules are typically a later manifestation of RA. However, nearly 11 percent of RA patients may have these nodules when they are first diagnosed. These nodules can be seen before joint involvement is discovered.

What is the outcome of patients with rheumatoid nodules?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) treatment advances have significantly reduced the number of people who have rheumatoid nodules and require treatment. New, highly effective RA medications have reduced the number of people who develop rheumatoid nodules. 

However, if RA is not controlled, rheumatoid nodules can cause several complications, including:

  • Neuropathy
  • Joint ulceration
  • Formation of fistula
  • Infection
  • Severe pain

Rheumatoid nodules can appear suddenly and disappear gradually over time. They can also be bothersome and even infective. Avoiding irritating trauma to the nodule, using local cortisone injections, and surgical removal are all options for treating rheumatoid nodules. Patients should consult the doctor about the best options for them.

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Medically Reviewed on 10/20/2022
Image Source: Getty image

What Are Rheumatoid Nodules? https://www.webmd.com/rheumatoid-arthritis/guide/rheumatoid-nodules#

Rheumatoid Nodules: https://www.aocd.org/page/RheumatoidNodules

What Are Rheumatoid Nodules? 5 Key Questions and Answers for RA Patients: https://creakyjoints.org/symptoms/rheumatoid-nodules/

What Are Rheumatoid Nodules? https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/what-is-ra/ra-nodules