What Is Mild Arthritis?

When we think of arthritis, we usually think of debilitating joint pain and joint deformity. However, not all cases and types of arthritis will result in these severe symptoms. In fact, arthritis symptoms can range from mild to severe. Mild arthritis is not an actual diagnosis, but rather a description of symptoms. If caught and diagnosed early, treatment can help slow disease progression and worsening of symptoms.

arthritis mild

Martin Novak / Getty Images

Types of Mild Arthritis

There are more than 100 different kinds of arthritis, and each can vary in severity. Healthcare providers utilize many tools to determine how progressive your type of arthritis is, including laboratory tests, X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and ultrasound.

Sometimes scales are used to rank symptoms. The Kellgren-Lawrence scale, which follows, is one such scale that traditionally is used to assess the severity of just one type of arthritis, radiographic knee osteoarthritis:

  • Grade 1: Your cells are beginning to change due to arthritis. While there's no deformation or major degradation yet, some cells in your joints are starting to die off, and there is superficial damage. You may have increased swelling and pain.
  • Grade 2: In this stage, deterioration is becoming more severe. You may have small cracks or fissures in the bones, and your cartilage is becoming damaged. The pain and swelling may cause limitations to activities you can tolerate.
  • Grade 3: The superficial layers of your joints are severely damaged at this point, and arthritis damage is moving to deeper layers of the joint. You have lost a lot of joint cartilage, and pain and swelling are more severe.
  • Grade 4: At this level, the arthritis has severely damaged your joints and they may become stiff or rigid. Pain and swelling may be so severe that you experience some level of disability. Marked narrowing of joint space results in deformity and sometimes severe disability. Surgery may be offered as a treatment option at this time.

Mild Arthritis Symptoms

Symptoms of mild arthritis vary based on the type of arthritis you have. Common mild arthritis symptoms include:

  • Joint pain
  • Stiffness
  • Body aches
  • Reduced mobility
  • Weakness
  • Swelling around joints

In most cases of mild arthritis, you will have noticeable pain, soreness, or stiffness, but these problems likely won't keep you from going about your day. You may have to make adjustments to how you do things, but you probably aren't experiencing any major disabilities.

Any type of arthritis can appear in a mild form, but certain types of arthritis are more likely to stay mild or become more severe. Osteoarthritis (OA) is a form of degenerative arthritis that worsens over time due to the aging process or overuse of a joint. Lifestyle adjustments can help slow the progression of this type of arthritis and help you keep the condition in a mild state.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), on the other hand, is often more severe and painful and affects joints on both sides of the body. Unlike osteoarthritis, RA is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the lining of the joints called the synovium. The inflammation becomes progressively worse, but medications like disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) can be used to slow the progression of the disease.

Mild RA is the least severe form of the disease, and people at this stage will experience intermittent pain, stiffness, and swelling. However, lack of severity and infrequency of symptoms also make diagnosis at this stage difficult and can delay treatment.

Diagnosis

The level assigned to your arthritis will largely depend on your symptoms. Your healthcare provider will determine the severity of your arthritis by asking the following questions:

  • Where is your pain?
  • Is it worse or better at certain times of day?
  • How long does your pain last?
  • What type of pain are you having—aches, soreness, stiffness, sharp or dull, etc.
  • What helps to relieve your pain?
  • What makes it worse?

Typically, the following will signal more severe forms of arthritis:

  • Visible joint damage: Your healthcare provider can visualize joint damage and bone spurs using an X-ray or other imaging methods. Visible joint damage is a sign of a more severe case of arthritis.
  • Multiple joint involvement: When multiple joints are involved or pain is spreading to other areas, this may indicate disease progression or a more severe case.
  • Obvious deformity: If you have bulging or misshapen joints, your practitioner may determine that your arthritis is more severe.
  • Presence of antibodies: With RA, your healthcare provider will screen for rheumatoid factor and anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide (CCP) antibodies in your blood to determine the severity of disease.

Treatment

Early diagnosis and treatment are key to effectively managing arthritis and slowing its progression.

Lifestyle Changes

With OA and RA, making positive lifestyle changes can help reduce symptoms or slow disease progression. Reducing the strain placed on joints can slow the progression of OA, while reducing the lifestyle factors associated with increased disease activity in RA helps with this inflammatory form of arthritis. Beneficial lifestyle changes for OA and RA include:

  • Losing weight
  • Maintaining a healthy diet
  • Staying active with regular exercise
  • Protecting your joints during strenuous or repetitive activities
  • Controlling chronic diseases like diabetes
  • Quitting smoking

Medications

Depending on the type of arthritis you have, your healthcare provider may also prescribe a number of medications for your arthritis. For osteoarthritis, your practitioner may recommend

For rheumatoid arthritis, your healthcare provider may recommend:

DMARDs target the entire immune system, while biologics work by targeting specific molecules in the inflammatory process.

Prognosis

Disease progression depends a lot on the lifestyle changes you make, medications you take, and the type of arthritis you have. RA is more likely than OA to advance to a severe stage. With early RA, natural remission was estimated to take place in 10% of cases in one study. In another study that followed early RA patients for 10 years, 94% of those patients managed daily life activities independently and 20% had almost no disability. Early recognition and intervention are key to slowing the progression of arthritis. By doing so, people with arthritis can prevent their condition from worsening and keep long-term complications at bay.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

You should make an appointment with your healthcare provider if you experience the following symptoms:

  • Pain, swelling, or stiffness in more than one joint at a time
  • Joint tenderness or pain that lasts for more than three days
  • Joints that are red or feel hot to the touch
  • Joint pain or weakness that leads to buckling or locking

Coping

Chronic disease can be difficult to manage because it never goes away. You may experience periods of relief, but you will also have periods where the pain becomes much worse, especially during RA flares. Coping with a chronic disease like arthritis can be physically difficult, but also mentally, emotionally, and financially draining.

Here are a few tips to help you deal with arthritis symptoms:

  • Home help: Find ways to make your home life more comfortable. Hire someone to clean. Add ramps or accessibility features to make your home easier to navigate. Even with mild arthritis, making small changes around your home that reduce wear on your joints can help slow the progression of your disease.
  • Invest in comfort: You will benefit in the long run from investments in items that help protect your joints, such as good running shoes or a quality mattress.
  • Assess your attitude: Having a positive outlook is key to managing many types of chronic disease. Try mindfulness, meditation, or relaxation strategies to reduce pain and irritability brought on by arthritis.
  • Keep stress in check: For many chronic diseases, especially inflammatory disorders like RA, stress can increase inflammation. Managing stress levels can help reduce flares and contain disease progression.
  • Keep moving: Your healthcare provider can help you find ways to manage your pain and find activities that don't aggravate it. Staying active can help strengthen the muscles that support your joints and slow the progression of OA.
  • In with the good, out with the bad: Making healthy choices when it comes to your diet can help you manage your arthritis pain. You should also consider losing weight if you are overweight, quitting smoking, and reducing your alcohol intake.

A Word From Verywell

If you have joint pain that comes and goes, you may have a mild form of arthritis. Lifestyle changes and a healthy diet can help slow the progression of some forms of arthritis and reduce your pain. Depending on what type of arthritis you have, medications can also slow disease progression. Because early treatment can make a dramatic difference in how you feel later in life, be sure to check in with your healthcare provider if you start experiencing minor joint pain, stiffness, or swelling. Talk to your healthcare provider about the best ways to keep your arthritis from progressing to a more severe level.

Was this page helpful?
9 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. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Arthritis Types. Updated February 20, 2019.

  2. Kohn MD, Sassoon AA, Fernando ND. Classifications in brief: Kellgren-Lawrence classification of osteoarthritis. Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2016;474(8):1886-1893. doi:10.1007/s11999-016-4732-4

  3. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Arthritis diagnosis.

  4. Arthritis Foundation. Slowing Osteoarthritis Progression.

  5. Wu Y, Goh EL, Wang D, Ma S. Novel treatments for osteoarthritis: an update. Open Access Rheumatol. 2018;10:135-140. doi: 10.2147/OARRR.S176666.

  6. Bullock J, Rizvi SAA, Saleh AM, et al. Rheumatoid arthritis: A brief overview of the treatment. Med Princ Pract. 2019;27(6):501-507. doi:10.1159/000493390

  7. Harvard Medical School. Explain the pain—Is it osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis? Updated 2014.

  8. Arthritis Foundation. When it's time to see a doctor for joint pain.

  9. Polinski KJ, Bemis EA, Feser M, Seifert J, Demoruelle MK, Striebich CC, Brake S, O'Dell JR, Mikuls TR, Weisman MH, Gregersen PK, Keating RM, Buckner J, Nicassio P, Holers VM, Deane KD, Norris JM. Perceived stress and inflammatory arthritis: A prospective investigation in the studies of the etiologies of rheumatoid arthritis cohort. Arthritis Care Res (Hoboken). 2020 Dec;72(12):1766-1771. doi:10.1002/acr.24085