A person with aching hands

Arthritis

Arthritis is an umbrella term for a large group of rheumatic diseases and related conditions that all feature joint inflammation. 

Osteoarthritis (OA), gout, and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are the most common types, but there are many other forms. Treatment is different depending on the cause, but the goal is always to relieve pain and inflammation while maintaining function.

Diagnosing arthritis can involve blood tests, X-rays, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) along with tests to rule out other possible causes of your symptoms.

The symptoms associated with arthritis include: 

  • Joint pain
  • Stiffness
  • Swelling 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes arthritis?

    Arthritis has four main causes.

    • Degenerative (osteoarthritis): Age, overuse, or injury destroy the cartilage cushioning the joint.
    • Inflammatory (RA, psoriatic arthritis): Autoimmunity causes damage and inflammation. 
    • Metabolic (gout): Uric acid build up causes symptoms.
    • Infectious (acute arthritis): Bacteria or a virus infect the joint or joint fluid.
  • What is rheumatoid arthritis?

    Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic, inflammatory, autoimmune disease in which the immune system misfires and tries to destroy the lining of your joints (the synovium). In some cases, it has systemic effects and may target the eyes, heart, lungs, or other tissues. RA is a progressive disease that can lead to pain, loss of mobility, and joint deformity.

  • What is psoriatic arthritis?

    Psoriatic arthritis is a chronic, inflammatory, immune-mediated disease involving joint pain and skin lesions. A misfiring immune system damages skin cells called keratinocytes and the resulting inflammation can spread to the joints, nails, eyes, brain, and kidneys. Sausage-like swelling in the fingers and toes, nail deformity, and persistent fatigue are also common symptoms.

  • What does arthritis feel like?

    While symptoms vary from one type to another, most forms of arthritis share a group of symptoms, especially in the early stages. These include:

    • Joint pain, stiffness, and inflammation
    • Limited range of motion in affected joints
    • Redness and warmth around sore joints
    • Nodules and nodes
    • Systemic symptoms such as fatigue, fever, and malaise
  • How can I prevent arthritis?

    You may be able to lower your risk of developing some types of arthritis through lifestyle modifications, such as:

    • Losing weight
    • Getting regular, moderate exercise
    • Protecting your joints during contact or high-impact sports
    • Not smoking or using tobacco
    • Eating an anti-inflammatory diet
  • How is arthritis diagnosed?

    If your doctor suspects arthritis, they’ll likely examine your painful joints; order blood tests to check for inflammation, autoimmunity, or other potential markers; and send you for imaging studies, such as X-rays or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), that can reveal damage to your joints and bones. They may also take steps to rule out other potential causes of your symptoms.

  • Does cracking your knuckles cause arthritis?

    No, you can not give yourself arthritis by cracking your knuckles, no matter what your mother may have told you. The cracking sound you hear is just dissolved gasses quickly being released from the capsule that cushions your joint. That release is necessary for the capsule to expand properly when under pressure. Even so, too much cracking can damage the connective tissues surrounding the joint.

Key Terms

Osteoarthritis nodules on hand
Causes of Bone Spurs in Hands and Treatment
Woman Holds Hand in Pain
Carpal Tunnel vs. Arthritis: Differences, Symptoms, and Causes
Arthritic knees, X-ray
What Does Arthritis Look Like?
woman suffering neck ache in winter
Best Climate for Arthritis
Shot of a doctor explaining x-ray test result to patient in clinic. Focus on digital tablet screen with medical scan image.
Pathophysiology of Osteoarthritis: Changes in Cartilage, Bone, and More
Woman preparing cupcakes at home
Sugar and Arthritis: Foods That Cause Inflammation
A woman is using her left hand to rub her right hand between the thumb and index finger. Next to her hands is a glass of water, a pencil, and keyboard.
Side Effects of Arthrotec (Diclofenac and Misoprostol)
fish oil supplements
Fish Oil for Arthritis: Pros, Cons, and Recommendations
Cropped shot of a handsome personal trainer with a senior man
Arthritis As a Systemic Disease: Symptoms and Causes
An older person's hand holding a cane.
Arthritis Prevalence and Statistics
172600009.jpg
10 Important Arthritis Facts You Should Know
Senior woman having physical therapy.
Arthritis - The Basic Facts
Turmeric capsules, powdered spice, spice, tinctures
Turmeric: Benefits, Side Effects, and Preparations
Symptoms of Scleroderma
Scleroderma: Signs, Symptoms, and Complications
female physician looking at medications on shelf
What Medications Are Used to Treat Psoriatic Arthritis?
DIP Psoriatic Arthritis Symptom Relief
Distal Interphalangeal Predominant Psoriatic Arthritis
Child getting exam for Perthes disease
Perthes Disease: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment
Arthritis mutilans
Arthritis Mutilans: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment
A rash indicating Still's disease.
Still’s Disease: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment
hives
What Skin Problems Does Rheumatoid Arthritis Cause?
RA Lifespan
How Does Rheumatoid Arthritis Shorten Lifespan?
Senior man rubbing sore hand
Asymmetric vs. Symmetric Psoriatic Arthritis
Psoriatic Arthritis Doctor
What Type of Doctors Treat Psoriatic Arthritis?
PsA Triggers
What Are the Most Common Psoriatic Arthritis Triggers?
Exercise for Ankylosing Spondylitis
Exercises for Ankylosing Spondylitis
Pouring red wine in glasses
Risks of Consuming Alcohol With Humira
Psoriatic Spondylitis
Psoriatic Spondylitis: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment
A young boy sitting on his bed
The Symptoms and Treatment of Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis
a picture of a man holding injured knee.
Knee Arthritis: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment
Woman chopping kale and preparing beans in the kitchen
Boron Deficiency: Overview and More
Hand arthritis
Preventing Arthritis Onset or Flare Up in the Hands
Woman on couch clutching wrist
Rheumatoid Arthritis: Wrist Symptoms and Treatment
Pediatrician's Office
Is Arthritis Hereditary?
sports arthritis
Does Sports Participation Cause Arthritis?
toe arthritis
Arthritis in the Toes: Overview and More
woman playing soccer
Knee Arthritis Is Likely to Develop After ACL Tear
Woman with hand pain
Learn If Arthritis Can Be Contagious or Not
Great Grandma's Hands
Substance P's Role in Arthritis and Inflammation
Woman popping her knuckle
Does Joint Popping or Snapping Cause Arthritis?
young and old women
The Connection Between Age and Arthritis
exercise pain joints
Will Weight Loss Improve Arthritis Symptoms
Happy family sitting at outdoor meal table
Is Rheumatoid Arthritis Hereditary?
exercise joint
Obesity Can Cause Joint Pain and Arthritis
hand therapy
Hand and Physical Therapy for Arthritis
Woman working at a white desk grasping her left wrist
Can Wearing a Magnetic Bracelet Ease Arthritis Pain?
Oatmeal porridge in bowl
Oatmeal and Gout: Pros, Cons, and Recommendations
Fresh fish fillets for sale in seafood store
Fish and Gout: What to Eat, What to Avoid
Arthritis treatments
The 6 Best OTC Arthritis Treatments of 2021
A woman sits at the foot of her bed, awake, as her partner sleeps in the background.
Painsomnia: Insomnia Caused by Pain
Depression and sleep deprivation are linked
The Link Between Sleep Deprivation and Depression
Tuna Roll
Tuna and Gout: Pros, Cons, and Tips
Prunes are high in the trace mineral boron
The Best Foods High in Boron
Man doing yoga
Yoga for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Filling a plastic free reusable water bottle in kitchen sink.
Does Drinking Water Help With Arthritis?
Man walking with cane
Arthritis and Activities of Daily Living
Man stretching with trainer
10 Ways You Can Fight Arthritis
Man relaxing with headphones.
How to Prevent an Arthritis Flare Up
Salmon on acutting board with dill, lemon slices, and capers
Natural Ways to Fight Inflammation
Depression
Chronic Illness and Depression: What Is the Connection?
Man holding coffee mug by window with raindrops
The Arthritis and Weather Connection
Page Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. MedlinePlus. Gout. Bethesda (MD): National Library of Medicine (US).