You may also have stiffness, redness, heat and a decreased range of movement.
Joint swelling can make it difficult to perform ordinary tasks at work or at home, such as using a computer mouse and climbing stairs. Chronic (long-term) swelling and discomfort can affect your work, social or family life.
There are things you can try to reduce the swelling on your own. However, you should see your doctor if you think your joint may be infected, or if swelling hasn’t gone down after a few days.
Swollen joints can happen when there’s more fluid than normal in the tissues around your joints. This is due to inflammation in these tissues, which is part of your body’s natural immune response to tissue damage or infection.
If one joint is swollen, it's usually due to a joint injury, such as a sprain, dislocation or fracture. This is usually accompanied by pain.
Causes of pain and swelling in one joint
Traumatic synovitis can also cause a joint to swell. This occurs when your joint lining becomes inflamed after an injury. You can manage your symptoms by applying ice packs, resting your joint and taking a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) eg ibuprofen.
Less common causes of swelling and pain in one joint include:
Causes of pain and swelling in multiple joints
If more than one joint is swollen, it may be caused by an underlying condition, such as arthritis. Common types of arthritis are:
A hot, swollen joint that develops quickly could be due to septic arthritis — a bacterial infection in your joint. If you suspect you have septic arthritis, you should see your GP or visit A&E as soon as possible. In some cases, swollen joints can be caused by ulcerative colitis — a chronic condition that inflames the lining of the large intestine (colon or large bowel).
Other conditions that can affect your joints include:
Less common causes of swelling and pain in multiple joints include:
In rare cases, certain cancers can also cause joints to become painful and swollen.
Book an appointment with a Spire GP today
You should arrange to see your GP if:
Your GP will discuss your symptoms and examine your joint(s). They may ask you questions, such as:
They may also arrange for you to have blood tests and imaging tests, such as:
In some cases, your GP may refer you to an orthopaedic consultant for further investigations, such as:
Treatments depend on the underlying reason for your joint inflammation.
If your joint swelling occurred after an injury, your doctor may recommend treatments you can do at home, such as:
You should still stay active to prevent the muscles around your joint weakening and affecting your range of movement.
Your doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory medications or antibiotics if your swelling is caused by an infection. In some cases, they may offer a joint injection to reduce swelling and pain in the joint.
If your swelling is caused by an underlying chronic condition eg arthritis, gout or lupus they will recommend specific treatment for that condition.
What can cause your joints to swell?
Joints normally swell due to a build-up of fluid in and around them — this is due to inflammation, which occurs in response to damage, infection or overuse. Swelling in just one joint is most often due to injury while swelling in multiple joints is more likely to be caused by an underlying medical condition such as arthritis.
What disease causes inflammation and swelling of the joints?
The most common group of diseases that cause inflammation and swelling of the joints is arthritis. There are several different types of arthritis including gout, osteoarthritis, psoriatic arthritis, reactive arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Connective tissue diseases can also cause joint swelling — this includes lupus and scleroderma.
How can I reduce inflammation in my joints?
Applying ice packs, resting your affected joints and taking an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory eg ibuprofen will help reduce inflammation in your joints. Also, try to avoid the movements and activities that worsen your joint pain and swelling.
Why are my joints aching all of a sudden?
Sudden joint pain is usually due to injury, such as:
Is there a virus that attacks the joints?
Viral infections can cause inflammation of your joints, which is painful and causes swelling eg infection with hepatitis or rubella.
What are the five worst foods to eat if you have arthritis?
Certain foods and drinks can aggravate arthritis, including: