Swelling of a joint

Alternative names
Joint swelling; Knee swelling; Toe swelling; Finger swelling; Hip swelling

Definition
Swelling occurs in the joints when fluid accumulates in the soft tissue, such as “water on the knee.”

Considerations
Joint swelling may occur along with joint pain.

Common Causes

     
  • Osteoarthritis  
  • Trauma  
  • Acute gouty arthritis (gout)  
  • Chronic gouty arthritis  
  • Rheumatoid arthritis  
  • Ankylosing spondylitis  
  • Enteropathic arthropathy  
  • Infection  
  • Ludwig’s angina  
  • Pseudogout  
  • Psoriatic arthritis  
  • Reiter’s syndrome  
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus  
  • Hemarthrosis

Home Care
For unexplained soft tissue joint swelling, contact your health care provider. Follow prescribed therapy to treat the underlying cause.

Call your health care provider if

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 health care provider’s office

Your health care provider will obtain your medical history and will perform a physical examination.

Medical history questions documenting joint swelling may include the following:

     
  • Location       o Which joint is swollen?           + Is it the big toe?           + Is the jaw or neck swollen?       o Are multiple joints swollen?  
  • Time pattern       o When did the joint swelling develop?       o Is it always present or off and on?       o Is this the first time you have had swollen joints?  
  • Quality       o How swollen is the area?       o If you press over the swollen area with a finger, does it leave a dent after you take the finger away?  
  • Aggravating factors       o What makes the swelling worse?       o Is it any worse in the morning or at night?       o Does exercise make it worse?  
  • Relieving factors       o What make the swelling better?       o Does elevating the affected body part make the swelling go down?       o Is it better if you use an elastic wrap?       o What home treatment have you tried? How effective was it?  
  • Other       o What other symptoms are also present?       o Is there joint pain?       o Is there fever?       o Is there a rash?

The physical examination will include a detailed examination of the affected joint(s).

DIAGNOSTIC TESTS that may be performed include the following:

     
  • Blood studies (such as a CBC or blood differential)  
  • Joint X-rays

Physical therapy for muscle and joint rehabilitation may be recommended.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 4, 2012
by Janet G. Derge, M.D.

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All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.