How Psoriasis Can Affect Your Joints

Medically Reviewed by Debra Jaliman, MD on January 27, 2021
2 min read

You know psoriasis affects your skin, making it itchy, painful, and causing scaly, thick patches. But you may notice a problem with your joints, too.

How does a skin condition affect your joints? It might not make sense at first, but here's the connection.

Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease. That means your immune system attacks your body’s own tissues. With psoriasis, that action shows up on the skin, causing itching, pain, inflammation, and swelling.

For some people, this same immune system fight happens in the joints. This is called psoriatic arthritis. Your joints can become painful and swollen because of inflammation.

This joint pain affects about 30% of people with psoriasis.  It's common among men and women and can start at any age. But there are a few things that make you more likely to have it.

  • If you already have psoriasis, especially lesions on your nails
  • If someone in your family has psoriatic arthritis
  • If you are between the ages of 30 and 50

It’s possible to have psoriatic arthritis without the skin condition. Sometimes a viral or bacterial infection can trigger it if your body is already prone to get it.

For those with both conditions, joint pain usually starts about 5 to 12 years after psoriasis symptoms begin.

How do you know that you have psoriatic arthritis? You'll usually notice that your joints are warm, swollen, stiff, and painful. Other symptoms include:

  • Swollen fingers and toes that might look like sausages
  • Stiffness and tiredness when you wake up or after you sit for a long time
  • Lower back pain
  • Foot pain, especially at the back of your heel or the sole of your foot
  • Nails that are pitted or separating from the nail bed
  • Redness and pain in the eye

You might have joint pain on one side or both sides of your body. Although the disease usually gets worse over time, you might have periods where pain gets better and then times when it gets worse.

Talk to your doctor if you have joint pain. It’s important to diagnose and treat psoriatic arthritis as early as possible. The goal is to keep your immune system from doing permanent damage to your joints. Treatment can also keep the inflammation that’s behind psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis from affecting other parts of your body, too.

You’ll likely need to see a doctor who specializes in treating arthritis, called a rheumatologist. They can tell you about the range of treatments that can help psoriatic arthritis -- from medicines that you swallow to drugs you inject that work with your immune system -- and which ones are most likely to help you.