Does arthritis cause swelling

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The symptoms of osteoarthritis can vary from one person to the next. Some of the more common symptoms include:

  • stiffness – especially when you haven’t moved your joints for a while, such as in the morning
  • joint pain during movement or after
  • joint tenderness if you push on it gently
  • a grating or crackling sensation in your joints
  • a limited range of movement of your joints
  • muscle weakness

Symptoms of osteoarthritis in the knees

If you have osteoarthritis in your knees, it is likely both your knees will be affected over time, unless it has occurred as the result of an injury or another condition affecting only one knee.

Your knees may be most painful when you walk, particularly when walking uphill or going up stairs. Sometimes, your knees may ‘give way’ beneath you or make it difficult to straighten your legs. You may also hear a soft, grating sound when you move the affected joint, or have swelling and warmth in your knee.

Symptoms of osteoarthritis in the hips

Osteoarthritis in your hips often causes difficulty moving your hip joints. You may find it difficult to put your shoes and socks on or to get in and out of a car or a low chair. Your hips may be stiff after you sit for a long time or when you get out of bed.

If you have osteoarthritis in your hips, you will usually have pain in the groin or outside the hip, which is worse when you move the hip. However, sometimes your brain will identify pain in your knee and not in your hip, because of the ‘wiring’ that transmits the pain signals.

In most cases, pain will be at its worst when you walk, although it can also affect you when you are resting.

Symptoms of osteoarthritis in the spine

The areas of the spine most likely to be affected are the neck and the lower back as these are the most mobile parts of the spine.

If the neck is affected you may be less able to move the neck joints which may affect your ability to turn your head. There may also be pain if the neck and head are held in the same position for long periods or held in an awkward position. There can also be associated muscle spasm in the neck, and pain from the neck can sometimes be felt in the shoulders and arms.

If the lower back is affected, there may be pain when doing a lot of bending or lifting. Stiffness often occurs when resting after exercise or bending. Pain from the lower back may sometimes also be felt radiating down to the hips and legs.

Symptoms of osteoarthritis in the hands

Osteoarthritis often affects three main areas of your hand: the base of your thumb, the joints closest to your fingertips and the middle joints of your fingers.

Your fingers may become stiff, painful and swollen and you may develop bumps on your finger joints. However, over time the pain in your fingers may decrease and eventually disappear altogether, although the bumps and swelling may remain.

Your fingers may bend sideways slightly at your affected joints or you may develop painful cysts (fluid-filled lumps) on the backs of your fingers.

In some cases, you may also develop a bump at the base of your thumb where it joins your wrist. This can be painful and you may find it difficult to perform some manual tasks, such as writing, opening jars or turning keys.


Osteoarthritis treatment

There is no cure for osteoarthritis. It will probably get worse over time. But the right plan can help you stay active, protect your joints from damage, limit injury, and control pain. Your doctor will help you create a plan that is right for you. He or she will treat you with a combination of therapies that can include the following.

Physical activity

It’s important to stay as active as possible. When joints hurt, people tend not to use them as much. Then the muscles get weak. This can cause the joint to work less effectively, and it can make it harder to get around. This causes more pain, and the cycle begins again. Talk to your doctor about ways to control your pain so that you can stay active and avoid this problem.

Exercise keeps your muscles strong and helps you stay flexible. Exercises that don’t strain your joints are best. To avoid pain and injury, choose exercises that can be done in small amounts with rest time in between. Dancing, weight-lifting, swimming, and bike-riding are good exercises for people who have arthritis. Avoid activities that make your pain worse.

Your doctor may also prescribe physical therapy. This usually includes muscle-strengthening exercises that can help your joints work better and reduce arthritis pain.


Your doctor will probably recommend taking over-the-counter medicines to manage your pain. These are medicines you can buy without a doctor’s prescription. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) reduce inflammation and relieve pain. They include aspirin, ibuprofen (one brand name: Advil), and naproxen (one brand name: Aleve). Other pain relievers may help you feel better, such as acetaminophen (one brand name: Tylenol).

Your doctor can also prescribe medicine for you. This could be prescription pain relievers or prescription NSAIDs used to treat certain types of arthritis.

Medicine should be used wisely. You only need the amount that makes you feel good enough to keep moving. Using too much medicine may increase the risk of side effects.

Special devices

Special supportive devices can help people who have arthritis stay independent. These devices help protect your joints and keep you moving. Devices include:

  • canes
  • crutches
  • walkers

Talk to your doctor if you think a special device may help your arthritis.

Other treatments

Sometimes osteoarthritis becomes severe. It can cause severe joint pain, swelling, and stiffness. When other therapies haven’t worked, your doctor may give you a shot in your joint. The shot could contain pain medicine. This can stop the pain for days to weeks. Adding another medicine (called a corticosteroid) may keep the pain and inflammation away longer.

If this doesn’t help enough, your doctor may talk to you about hyaluronic acid injections. Your joints already contain hyaluronic acid. If you have osteoarthritis, that acid gets thinner. When this happens, there isn’t enough hyaluronic acid to protect the joint. These shots put more hyaluronic acid into your joint to help protect it. These injections are usually only used for osteoarthritis in the knee. Unfortunately, these injections don’t help everyone. And some research has shown that they don’t work. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons says it cannot recommend using hyaluronic acid for osteoarthritis of the knee.

Talk to your doctor about injections to see if they would be a good choice for you.

What about surgery?

Sometimes osteoarthritis is so severe that surgery is required to relieve the symptoms. There are many surgical options. They include:

  • With a tiny camera and special instruments, the surgeon can see how badly the joint has been damaged. He or she can remove damaged parts of the joint and clean the joint to remove any loose parts that may be causing you pain. It may provide temporary relief from pain or delay the need for other surgeries.
  • This surgery repositions or reshapes the bones in your joint where osteoarthritis has caused damage. It can shift your weight away from an area that has been damaged or correct misalignment in a joint. This procedure restores movement in your joint and relieves the pain. People who have an osteotomy may need joint replacement surgery in the future.
  • This is also called joint replacement therapy. A surgeon removes the damaged joint and replaces it with an artificial joint made from metals, plastic, and/or ceramic. All or part of the joint may be replaced. Joint replacement therapy can help put an end to your pain and improve or restore movement in your joint.

The type of surgery performed depends on several factors. These include your age, your activity level, which joint is affected, and how bad the damage is. Talk to your doctor to learn about which kind of surgery will be best for you.

Osteoarthritis Symptoms and Diagnosis

Osteoarthritis can affect any joint in the body.

Symptoms of hand osteoarthritis include numbness in the fingers and difficulty gripping and twisting. Alamy

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a type of joint disorder that develops when cartilage (slippery tissue that covers the ends of bones in the joints) wears away, allowing the joints to rub together.

The most commonly affected areas include these joints:

  • Knees
  • Hips
  • Hands and fingers
  • Spine

Osteoarthritis rarely affects the elbows, wrists, and ankles.

Most people with osteoarthritis are middle-aged or older because the condition occurs slowly over time, developing as a result of normal wear and tear on the joints.

It rarely affects people younger than age 40, and at least 80 percent of people over age 55 have X-ray evidence of the disorder, even if they present no clear symptoms.

But osteoarthritis can occur and cause symptoms in younger adults due to sports injuries, obesity, and other types of arthritis, which encompass various inflammatory joint conditions. (1)

Early Signs and Symptoms of Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis symptoms can vary from person to person, and some people don’t experience symptoms at first.

Common symptoms of osteoarthritis include these issues:

  • Joint Pain It often gets worse with activity and better with rest (though exercise is an important part of arthritis therapy). Painful joints may be tender to the touch. If you have severe osteoarthritis, the joint pain may also occur when resting and at night.
  • Stiffness People most commonly experience stiffness associated with osteoarthritis in the morning. The stiffness usually gets better within 30 minutes of getting out of bed, but it can return throughout the day if the joint remains inactive for too long.
  • Swelling Excess fluid in the joints may cause swelling.
  • Crepitus You may experience a crackling or grating sensation when moving an affected joint. This is called crepitus, and it may occur because the normally smooth surfaces inside the joint are becoming rough as the bones rub together.
  • Bony Protuberances You may experience bony outgrowths or bone spurs under the skin near joints. In many people, these protuberances grow bigger over time. (1)
  • Loss of Flexibility Over time, you may experience a loss of flexibility in the affected joint. (2)

Joint-Specific Osteoarthritis Symptoms

Osteoarthritis symptoms may vary depending on the joints involved.

For example, crepitus often occurs with knee osteoarthritis. The knee may also occasionally buckle or give away, and eventually, it may become bent and bowed. (3, 4 ,5)

Hand osteoarthritis may cause numbness in the fingers and difficulty performing motions that require gripping and twisting, such as opening jars. Over time, you may lose the ability to completely open and close your fingers. (6)

If you have hip osteoarthritis, you may experience seemingly non-hip-related symptoms, including pain that starts in the groin or thigh and radiates to your buttocks or knee. You may also experience difficulties walking or develop limp in your walk due to a decreased range of motion in the hip. (7)

Arthritis of the spine, on the other hand, can cause feelings of weakness, tingling, or numbness in the arms and legs if the spinal cord is compressed. (8)

Osteoarthritis Testing and Diagnosis

Diagnosis of osteoarthritis typically begins with your doctor getting your medical history. You will be asked when your symptoms started, how they’ve changed over time, what other symptoms they are associated with, if you have morning stiffness, and what other medical conditions you or close family members have.

It’s important to let your doctor know if anyone else in your family has osteoarthritis: A family history of the disease is a risk factor for osteoarthritis. Most people with primary osteoarthritis (osteoarthritis that develops from normal wear and tear instead of a specific cause) have family members with the condition. (9)

You should also tell your doctor if you’re experiencing any psychological distress, including anxiety, insomnia, depression, weight loss, irritability, and increased forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating. (3)

Your doctor will then give you a physical examination to look for these signs of osteoarthritis or other ailments:

  • Tenderness of the joint
  • Crepitus
  • Bony enlargement of the joint and joint deformities
  • Restricted joint range of motion and pain during movement
  • Instability of the joint that causes it to give away
  • Altered gait
  • Muscle atrophy or weakness
  • Joint swelling from fluid (3)

Tests for Osteoarthritis

Your doctor will use a number of tools, including imaging and laboratory tests, to help determine whether you have osteoarthritis:

X-rays X-rays can help determine how much joint damage there is and how the joint is changing over time. They can also show problems such as cartilage loss, bone damage, and bone spurs. X-rays may appear normal during the early stages of osteoarthritis.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) This is another type of imaging. It is used to examine cartilage, ligaments, and tendons for damage that can’t be seen on an X-ray.

Joint Aspiration In this test, your doctor will numb the painful area and insert a needle into the joint to take a fluid sample. A laboratory technician will examine the fluid for signs of crystals, infection, or joint deterioration. This test can be used to help rule out other medical conditions or forms of arthritis, such as gout. (2,10)

Arthroscopy In this surgical procedure, your surgeon will numb the area and then insert a small viewing tool (called an arthroscope) into the joint through several small incisions. Arthroscopy was once commonly used as a diagnostic tool for knee osteoarthritis but now is typically used only to determine the extent of cartilage damage (for this application, arthroscopy may be better than an MRI). (11)

Understanding Osteoarthritis Flare-ups: Symptoms, Management, and More

Treating an OA flare-up may require a combination of over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medications and home remedies. Talk to your doctor about the options below.

OTC solutions

OTC pain medications are often the first course of action for OA flare-ups. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are the most common OTC drugs used for arthritis-related pain. These include ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), aspirin, and naproxen (Aleve). While NSAIDs are effective against joint pain and inflammation during a flare-up, they carry the risk of stomach bleeding if you take them too long. NSAIDs also may interact with prescription medications, and they can increase blood pressure.

Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is another OTC pain relief option. However, acetaminophen products don’t treat inflammation. This medication can affect the liver if you take it too long or in large doses.

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is another OTC option. A TENS device runs on batteries and it comes with adhesive pads that you place on the site of pain. The device then delivers electric pulses to alter certain nerves that signal pain. TENS isn’t a medication, but some devices are available over the counter. More complex devices are also sold through physical therapists and medical supply stores at a higher cost. While TENS can offer pain relief during a flare-up, it can’t minimize OA damage.

Prescription medications

Sometimes OTC medications may not offer enough relief in the case of a severe OA flare-up. Prescription options may include:

  • narcotics
  • prescription-strength NSAIDs
  • tramadol (Ultram)
  • corticosteroids

Prescription pain pills can carry similar risks as their OTC counterparts. Also, the downside to narcotics for pain relief is that they can cause dizziness, which may increase your risk for falls. Prescription pain relievers can also become addictive. You shouldn’t use them long-term. Corticosteroids reduce inflammation, but they can cause irritability and weight gain in some people.

Home remedies

Some possible home remedies for OA flare-ups include:

  • acupuncture
  • heat therapy to ease stiffness
  • cold compresses and ice for pain relief
  • massage therapy, though be sure your therapist is familiar with OA
  • breathing exercises to reduce stress
  • lots of rest between activities

It’s important to note that home remedies for OA flare-ups can help reduce pain, inflammation, and swelling, but they may not be as effective for severe symptoms as medications.

Learn more: 4 osteoarthritis exercises “



Preventing osteoarthritis

It’s not possible to prevent osteoarthritis altogether. However, you may be able to minimise your risk of developing the condition by avoiding injury and living a healthy lifestyle.


Avoid exercise that puts strain on your joints and forces them to bear an excessive load, such as running and weight training. Instead, try exercises such as swimming and cycling, where the strain on your joints is more controlled.

Try to do at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity (such as cycling or fast walking) every week, plus strength exercises on 2 or more days each week that work the major muscle groups, to keep yourself generally healthy.

Find out more about health and fitness, including tips on simple exercises you can do at home.


It can also help to maintain good posture at all times and avoid staying in the same position for too long.

If you work at a desk, make sure your chair is at the correct height, and take regular breaks to move around.

Find out more about common posture mistakes and fixes.

Losing weight

Being overweight or obese increases the strain on your joints and your risk of developing osteoarthritis. If you’re overweight, losing weight may help lower your chances of developing the condition.

Use the healthy weight calculator to find out whether you’re overweight or obese.

Find out more more about losing weight.

Want to know more?

  • Versus Arthritis: Osteoarthritis

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