Joint swelling is the buildup of fluid in the soft tissue surrounding the joint.
Joint 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.
Joint swelling may be caused many different things, including:
If 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 immediately if you have joint pain and swelling with a fever.
Also call your health provider if you have:
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:
Tests to diagnose the cause of joint swelling may include:
Physical therapy for muscle and joint rehabilitation may be recommended.
Swelling of a joint
Davis 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.
Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, 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.
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