Swollen joints happen when there's an increase of fluid in the tissues that surround the joints. Joint swelling is common with different types of arthritis, infections, and injuries. A swollen joint is a symptom of the following health conditions:
Osteoarthritis (OA). OA is the "wear-and-tear" arthritis that usually happens with aging or after injury. With OA, there's a wearing down of the cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones. OA may cause joint swelling in those joints that bear weight over a lifetime, such as knees, hips, feet, and spine. Except for the pain in the affected swollen joint, you usually do not feel sick or tired.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA). RA is an inflammatory arthritis that can happen at any age -- even in young children. RA causes painful, stiff, and swollen joints. Usually, RA affects hands, feet, and knees, but it can also affect most joints and other parts of the body. RA symptoms can interfere with daily activities.
Gout. Gouty arthritis usually strikes suddenly, with severe joint pain, swelling, warmth, and redness, often in the big toe (about 50% of cases). Gout causes a painful, swollen joint that's so severe that the weight of bed sheets can cause distress. It usually involves one joint when it strikes, but occasionally gout can affect more than one joint.
With gout, uric acid -- a normal chemical in the body -- forms crystals that deposit in the joints, causing inflammation and pain. The crystals may also deposit in other areas to become nodules under the skin or stones in the kidney.
Infectious arthritis. Infectious arthritis or septic arthritis is the result of a bacterial, viral, or fungal infection in the tissues and fluid of a joint. Joint infection usually occurs after a previous infection in the body. The infection travels to the joint via the bloodstream from another part of the body, such as a person's skin, nose, throat, ears, or an existing wound. Within hours to days, pain, inflammation, swollen joints, and fever develop. The joints most commonly affected with infectious arthritis are the knee, hip, shoulder, ankle, and wrists. Damaged joints are more vulnerable to infection.
Common bacterial causes of infectious arthritis include Neisseria gonorrhoeae and Staphylococcus aureus. Some joint infections may be caused by more than one organism.
Joint injuries. Joint injuries can result in painful, swollen joints, and stiffness. Sometimes, joint pain can be caused by injured or torn muscles, tendons, and ligaments surrounding the joint, bursitis, tendonitis, dislocations, strains, sprains, and fractures.
What Are the Symptoms of Swollen Joints?
Symptoms of swollen joints include:
- Deep, aching pain
- May feel warm to touch
- Inability to move them normally
How Are Swollen Joints Treated?
Not all swollen joints are treated the same way. Treatment for swollen joints depends on the problem or diagnosis.
For instance, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are used in treating swollen joints with OA. NSAIDs may also be used to treat swollen joints from an injury. Along with NSAIDs, applications of moist heat or ice can help ease swollen joints and pain.
Injecting an anti-inflammatory drug such as a steroid into a joint is another treatment method. The injection goes directly into the swollen joint -- the source of inflammation and pain. Injections usually give the patient temporary but rapid relief of joint swelling and pain. Fluid removal is part of this procedure in most circumstances.
For inflammatory types of arthritis such as RA, psoriatic arthritis, and ankylosing spondylitis, treatment may include NSAIDs, steroid medications, and the newer types of drugs that affect the immune system. These include the disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs), biologic agents such as tumor necrosis factor inhibitors, and enzyme inhibitors which can block the proteins that cause. Inflammation.
Acute gout can be treated with a medicine called colchicine. This prescription drug eases swollen joints, pain, and inflammation caused by the crystal deposits in the joint. NSAIDs may also help decrease pain and swelling. Sometimes, stronger painkillers are needed.
Swollen joints and pain from infectious arthritis are treated with antibiotics to stop the infection. Sometimes, surgery may be needed to allow drainage of infected material.