DefinitionJoint swelling is the buildup of fluid in the soft tissue surrounding the joint.
Alternative NamesSwelling of a joint
ConsiderationsJoint swelling may occur along with joint pain. The swelling may cause the joint to appear larger or abnormally shaped.Joint swelling can cause pain or stiffness. After an injury, swelling of the joint may mean you have a broken bone or a tear in the muscle tendon or ligament.Many different types of arthritis may cause swelling, redness, or warmth around the joint.An infection in the joint can cause swelling, pain, and fever.
Common CausesJoint swelling may be caused many different things, including:Ankylosing spondylitisGoutOsteoarthritisPseudogoutPsoriatic arthritisReactive arthritisRheumatoid arthritisSeptic arthritisSystemic lupus erythematosus
Home CareIf the joint swelling occurs after an injury, apply ice packs to reduce pain and swelling. Raise the swollen joint so that it is higher than your heart, if possible. For example, if your ankle is swollen, lay down with pillows comfortably placed underneath your foot so that your ankle and leg is slightly raised.For those with arthritis, your doctor's treatment plan should be followed carefully.
Call your health care provider ifCall your health care provider immediately if you have joint pain and swelling with a fever.Also call your health provider if you have:Unexplained joint swellingJoint swelling after an injury
What to expect at your health care provider's officeYour health care provider will obtain your medical history and will perform a physical examination. The joint will be closely examined. You will be asked questions about your joint swelling, such as:Location
Which joint is swollen?Is more than one joint swollen?Time pattern
When did the joint swelling develop?Is it always swollen, or does it come and go?Is this the first time you have had swollen joints?Quality
How swollen is the area?If you press over the swollen area with a finger, does it leave a dent after you take the finger away?Aggravating factors
What makes the swelling worse?Is it any worse in the morning or at night?Does exercise make it worse?Relieving factors
What make the swelling better?Does elevating the affected body part make the swelling go down?Is it better if you use an elastic wrap?What home treatment have you tried? Did it work?Other
What other symptoms are also present?Is there joint pain?Is there fever?Is there a rash?Tests to diagnose the cause of joint swelling may include:Blood studies (such as a CBC or blood differential)Joint x-raysJoint aspiration and examination of joint fluidPhysical therapy for muscle and joint rehabilitation may be recommended.
ReferencesDavis JM III, Moder KG, Hunder GG. History and physical examination of the musculoskeletal system. In: Firestein GS, Budd RC, Harris ED Jr, et al, eds. Kelley's Textbook of Rheumatology. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2008:chap 35.Bearcroft PPW. Joint disease. In: Adam A, Dixon AK, eds. Grainger & Allison's Diagnostic Radiology. 5th ed. New York, NY: Churchill Livingstone; 2008:chap 50.