Read below about joint swelling, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your joint swelling from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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Joint Swelling Symptoms

Swelling of any kind is the result of a buildup of fluid within soft tissue. When there is swelling in a joint, or joint effusion, it is either the surrounding tissue or the tissue lining the inside of the joint that swells – not the joint itself, which is made of bone and cartilage.

The swelling is most often secondary to trauma and only involves the joint that has been injured. However, if there has been no injury and more than one joint is swollen, it suggests there is some sort of systemic illness causing the swelling.

Characteristics:

  • The swollen joint may or may not be painful.
  • The joint will appear misshapen and enlarged.
  • There is often joint stiffness, causing difficulty flexing or moving the joint.
  • There may be redness and heat over and around the swollen joint, with or without fever.
  • There may be rash, fever, fatigue, and weight loss.

Duration of symptoms:

  • Swelling from a mild injury may resolve simply with rest.
  • Most forms of joint swelling, especially if infection is involved, will not heal on their own and can get progressively worse if not treated.

Who is most often affected by joint swelling symptoms?

  • Athletes, since this is often a sports injury:

    • Acute trauma due to being struck during play.
    • Chronic wear and tear of a joint's cartilage due to overuse.
  • Anyone involved in a motor vehicle accident.
  • Anyone with one of several types of autoimmune illnesses. These conditions cause the body's immune system to attack its own healthy tissue, including the soft tissues in and around the joints.

When are joint swelling symptoms most likely to occur?

  • Swelling and stiffness due to an inflammatory process will be especially noticeable in the morning.
  • Swelling and stiffness caused by wearing away of a joint's cartilage will be worse following exercise.

Are joint swelling symptoms serious?

  • Mild swelling following a minor injury is rarely serious, especially if the swelling goes down with rest and an ice pack.
  • Persistent swelling that does not respond to rest, heat, ice, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs should be seen by a medical provider at the first opportunity.
  • Hot, swollen, painful joints must be treated right away in order to prevent further damage to the bone, cartilage, and lining of the joint.

Joint Swelling Causes Overview

Swelling of the soft tissue around the joint:

  • Fracture of a bone within the joint.
  • Dislocation of the parts of the joint.
  • Sprain, which is an overstretching of the ligaments which hold the bones of a joint together.
  • Strain, which is an overstretching of the tendons which attach muscles to bones.
  • Surgery on or near the joint.
  • Damage and wear to the cartilage at the ends of the bones, due to overuse for a long period of time.

Swelling of the synovium, the inner lining of the joint:

This lining swells due to inflammation and this inflammatory process causes the lining's fluid to increase, causing further swelling around the joint.

  • Autoimmune diseases that cause joint damage, joint swelling, and flu-like symptoms.
  • Autoimmune skin disorders that also affect the joints. These may cause thickened, tightened skin, or skin that is very red with heavy patches of silvery scales.

Infection of the tissue in and around the joint:

  • An injury that reaches to the inside of the joint – usually a puncture wound – can introduce bacteria that will cause swelling, severe pain, and redness over the joint.
  • A joint damaged by an autoimmune disease can also become infected by any of the following:

    • Bacteria.
    • Virus.
    • Fungus.

Crystalline deposits that build up in the joints, especially the smaller ones:

  • This may be caused by a combination of heredity, poor diet, drinking alcohol, obesity, chronic dehydration, and the use of diuretics.

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Joint Swelling

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced joint swelling. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.Ankle Arthritis

    Arthritis of the ankle is a degenerative joint disorder occurring in the ankle. It presents with joint pain and stiffness that is typically worse with activity.

    Arthritis is considered irreversible, but symptoms can be effectively managed with treatment. Newer, more effective treatment options have become available in recent years.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    swollen ankle, swollen foot, joint stiffness, pain in one ankle, ankle stiffness
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  2. 2.Mild / Moderate Hip Arthritis

    Arthritis of the hip is inflammation of one or more of the joints in the hip. Pain, swelling, and stiffness are the primary symptoms of arthritis. Hip arthritis can make it hard to do many everyday activities, such as walking or climbing stairs. It is a major cause of lost work time and a serious disability for many people.

    Varies with treatment

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    hip pain, difficulty walking, pain in one hip, limping, groin pain
    Symptoms that always occur with mild/moderate hip arthritis:
    hip pain
    Symptoms that never occur with mild/moderate hip arthritis:
    severe hip pain
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  3. 3.Knee Arthritis

    Arthritis is inflammation of one or more of the joints. Pain, swelling, and stiffness are the primary symptoms of arthritis. Any joint in the body may be affected by the disease, but it is particularly common in the knee.

    Knee arthritis is a chronic problem once it develops.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    pain in both knees, knee stiffness, knee instability, swollen knee, morning joint stiffness
    Symptoms that always occur with knee arthritis:
    pain in both knees
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  4. 4.Lower Back Arthritis

    Osteoarthritis, most often simply called arthritis, is a disease of cartilage. In joints, where bones touch and move against one another, cartilage helps provide lubrication for smooth movement, and acts as a shock absorber. Cartilage is also present in between vertebrae, which are the bones comprising the spine. Osteoarthritis of the spine, also known as degenerative joint disease, happens when the cartilage between vertebrae dries out and shrinks. The vertebrae are thus not as able to move smoothly against one another. The ability to walk and perform normal daily activities can be impaired due to inflammation and pain in the lower back.

    Currently, there is no widely accepted cure for osteoarthritis, and medical care is centered on management of symptoms. General pain killers are likely to reduce pain symptoms in the short term (hours up to a day). Corticosteroid injections can reduce pain symptoms for months.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    lower back pain, spontaneous back pain, back pain that gets worse when straightening it, back pain from overuse
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  5. 5.Shoulder Arthritis

    Arthritis is inflammation of one or more of the joints. Pain, swelling, and stiffness are the primary symptoms of arthritis. Any joint in the body may be affected by the disease, including the shoulder joint.

    Shoulder arthritis is a chronic problem once it develops.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    spontaneous shoulder pain, shoulder pain that gets worse at night, difficulty moving the shoulder, swollen shoulder
    Symptoms that always occur with shoulder arthritis:
    spontaneous shoulder pain
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

    Joint Swelling Checker

    Take a quiz to find out why you’re having joint swelling.

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  6. 6.Lyme Disease

    Lyme Disease is a bacterial infection caused by the bite of a tick, which needs to latch on for a few days to transmit the bacteria. This infection can affect the skin, but more dangerously, the nervous system.

    If treated properly, people are typically cured but may have symptoms for a few months even without signs of an actual infection.

    Rarity:
    Ultra rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, irritability, muscle aches, loss of appetite
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  7. 7.Rheumatoid Arthritis

    Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a form of arthritis that causes pain, swelling, stiffness and loss of function in your joints. It can affect any joint but is common in the wrist and fingers. RA is an autoimmune disorder, meaning that it is caused by the immune system incorrectly attacking the joints when it shouldn't.

    RA is a chronic disease which requires lifelong control.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, depressed mood, joint pain, muscle aches, daytime sleepiness
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  8. 8.Psoriatic Arthritis

    Psoriasis is a skin disease that causes itchy or sore patches of thick, red skin with silvery scales. Some people who have psoriasis also get a form of arthritis (inflammation and swelling of joints) called psoriatic arthritis.

    This type of arthritis can be managed with treatment, and permanent damage can be prevented. However, the underlying cause (psoriasis) is currently incurable.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    shoulder pain, lower back pain, joint pain, upper back pain, hip pain
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  9. 9.Skin Cyst

    An epidermoid cyst is a closed sac under the skin filled with a cheese-like or oily material. It is caused by trauma or surgery.

    Resolves with treatment

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    skin-colored armpit bump, marble sized armpit lump, small armpit lump
    Symptoms that always occur with skin cyst:
    skin-colored armpit bump
    Urgency:
    Wait and watch
  10. 10.Synovial Chondromatosis

    Synovial chondromatosis is a disease affecting the synovium, which is a thin flexible membrane around a joint. It can often be confused with tendinitis and/or arthritis.

    Surgery is the only effective treatment at this time, but this condition is considered benign, and spreading to other tissue is very rare.

    Rarity:
    Ultra rare
    Top Symptoms:
    joint swelling, pain in one knee, pain in one hip, swollen knee, spontaneous knee pain
    Symptoms that always occur with synovial chondromatosis:
    joint swelling
    Symptoms that never occur with synovial chondromatosis:
    fever, night sweats, unintentional weight loss, warm red ankle swelling, warm red knee swelling, warm and red elbow swelling
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

Joint Swelling Treatments and Relief

Seek immediate swollen joint treatment in the emergency room or call 911 if:

  • There are one or more swollen, reddened joints and the person also has a fever.
  • There is an acute injury to a joint with rapid swelling, deformity, and pain.

Schedule an appointment for:

  • Persistent joint swelling following a mild to moderate injury, meaning the swelling has not gone down after two to three days.
  • Swelling that occurs for no apparent reason.
  • Swelling that occurs in the presence of other symptoms of illness, such as fever or body aches.
  • Discussion of physical therapy once an injured joint has begun to heal.

Joint swelling remedies that you can try at home:

  • Raise the joint above the level of your heart by propping up the arm or leg on pillows.
  • Apply ice packs or hot packs to the painful, swollen joints, depending on which is more effective.
  • Take over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen, to help reduce pain.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Joint Swelling

  • Q.Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?
  • Q.What is your body mass?
  • Q.Have you ever been diagnosed with diabetes?
  • Q.Any fever today or during the last week?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our joint swelling symptom checker to find out more.

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Joint Swelling Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced joint swelling have also experienced:

    • 10% Joint Pain
    • 6% Joint Stiffness
    • 5% Fatigue
  • People who have experienced joint swelling were most often matched with:

    • 42% Mild / Moderate Hip Arthritis
    • 42% Knee Arthritis
    • 14% Ankle Arthritis
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

A.I. Health Assistant

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