Joint swelling is the buildup of fluid in the soft tissue surrounding the joint.
Swelling of a joint
Joint swelling may occur along with joint pain.
Joint swelling may be caused many different things, including:
- Acute gouty arthritis (gout)
- Ankylosing spondylitis
- Chronic gouty arthritis
- Ludwig's angina
- Psoriatic arthritis
- Reactive arthritis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Systemic lupus erythematosus
For unexplained soft tissue joint swelling, contact your health care provider. Follow prescribed therapy to treat the underlying cause.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if any of the following occurs:
- Severe, unexplained joint pain
- Severe, unexplained stiffness or swelling, especially if accompanied by other unexplained symptoms
What to Expect at Your Office Visit
Your 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:
- Which joint is swollen?
- Is more than one joint swollen?
- 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?
- 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?
- What makes the swelling worse?
- Is it any worse in the morning or at night?
- Does exercise make it worse?
- 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? How effective was it?
- 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-rays
- Joint aspiration and examination of joint fluid
Physical therapy for muscle and joint rehabilitation may be recommended.
Moder KG, Hunder GG. History and physical examination of the musculoskeletal system. In: Harris ED, Budd RC, Genovese MC, Firestein GS, Sargent JS, Sledge CB, eds. Kelley's Textbook of Rheumatology. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2005:chap 33.
Arend WP, Lawry GV. Approach to the patient with rheumatic disease. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 277.
Reviewed By: Linda Vorvick, MD, Seattle Site Coordinator, Lecturer, Pathophysiology, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.