Are your joints swollen? Are you finding increased discomfort and stiffness when moving around or carrying out daily tasks? Swelling in your joints could indicate a range of possible health issues, but some of the most common include arthritis, infection, or an injury.
The swelling occurs when excess fluid builds up around the joints, restricting your movement. Joint effusion, to give it its formal name, can occur anywhere in the body, and some people may find the discomfort comes in waves while others might experience more permanent inflammation.
If you are finding that your joints are swollen, we have taken a closer look at what could be causing it, the symptoms to look out for, and how you can relieve it.
What causes swollen joints?
Noticing that your joints are swollen could be an indication of various health conditions. However, some of the most common include:
Osteoarthritis is one of the most common causes of swollen joints and typically occurs naturally with age. Over time, constantly moving our joints causes the cartilage to wear away, which results in our bones rubbing together and causing the affected area to become swollen and sore. Osteoarthritis usually occurs in weight-bearing joints, such as the knees, hips, spine, and feet.
Rheumatoid arthritis can occur at any age and causes severe inflammation in the joints, which results in stiffness and discomfort. Most commonly in the feet, knees, and hands, rheumatoid arthritis can impact almost any joint in the body.
Gout is another form of arthritis and is a leading cause of why your joints are swollen. Often impacting the big toe, gout causes the joint to become incredibly tender and swollen. The condition can affect anyone and usually develops due to a poor diet.
This condition impacts the sacroiliac joints that connect the spine and the pelvis and can cause severe swelling, discomfort, and stiffness.
Psoriatic arthritis is a common condition that is linked to the skin disease of the same name. This type of arthritis causes the joints to become irritated and inflamed, creating stiffness and discomfort.
If your joints are swollen but you are not experiencing any other symptoms of arthritis, then it could be due to an infection. This can occur in any joint in the body and usually forms following a wound or deep cut. The infection will enter the bloodstream and is more likely to impact seniors and those with diabetes or a weakened immune system.
Another common cause of swollen joints is due to an injury. Whether from sports, a car accident, or blunt force trauma, injury to the bones or joints can cause significant discomfort, swelling, and difficulty with moving or rotating the joint.
What are the symptoms of a swollen joint?
If you are noticing discomfort and restricted movement within your joints, then you could be experiencing inflammation. Some of the most common signs to look out for include:
The major sign is visible seeing that the joint has become swollen and inflamed. You will be able to see a large lump of fluid around the joint.
Alongside the visual swelling, it is also very common to notice that the joint is warm to the touch, particularly in comparison to the skin nearby.
When your joints are swollen, then it is also very common to notice that there is a large amount of discomfort that can continue to ache every time the joint moves or comes into contact with something.
As the joint swells, it can significantly impact your movement. This could limit how you bend your arm or leg and make everyday tasks such as walking or bathing yourself incredibly challenging.
How to diagnose swollen joints
If you think your joints are swollen, then it is important to seek medical help. While sometimes it can occur after a minor fall or accident, if you are facing continuous discomfort and lack of movement, then your doctor will be able to examine what might be causing your joints to swell. Equally, if you are experiencing any other symptoms, such as nausea or a fever, then you should seek help as soon as possible.
In order to diagnose joint swelling, your doctor will likely ask you a range of questions, including:
- When the swelling started
- Where it began
- How severe it has become
- Whether you are feeling any stiffness or tenderness
- If anything has helped to ease or exasperate the symptoms
Once they have this information, they might then recommend further tests. This could include a blood test or an imaging test (such as an x-ray) to determine the cause of the joint discomfort. They may also conduct a joint aspiration, removing a small amount of the fluid from the swelling to be analyzed in a laboratory.
How to treat joint pain
Are your joints swollen? Experiencing inflammation in your joints can be incredibly frustrating and can prevent you from going about your daily activities. Thankfully, no matter how severe your swelling might be, there is a range of treatments that you can undertake to relieve your symptoms. This includes:
Depending on the cause of your joint swelling, your doctor might prescribe a course of antibiotics. This can help to remove the infection and reduce the swelling and enhance movement as you complete the course.
Another very common method of treating joint swelling is simply to rest. The more stress and pressure we place on our joints, the more inflamed they become. That is why taking the weight off your joints and resting can help to transform your discomfort.
Cool the joint
As you can with any kind of swelling, applying ice to the impacted area can help you to cool the joint and enhance the movement that you can enjoy. Cooling the affected site as soon as possible can also help to reduce the soreness and stiffness, preventing the joint from swelling up as much as it would have if left untreated.
In the most serious cases, such as major injury or irreversible immobilization, then your doctor may recommend surgery. While a last resort, surgery can help to give individuals the movement and flexibility of the joint once again.
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