Signs and Symptoms of Arthritis

Arthritis X-ray
Arthritis is an inflammation of the joints. This colored X-ray shows the hands of an 81 year old female patient with rheumatoid arthritis. Credit: Science Photo Library/Getty Images
In This Article

Arthritis is one of the most common causes of joint pain. It occurs when joints become inflamed, leading to symptoms such as pain, swelling, stiffness, reduced range of motion, redness, and instability. There are many types of arthritis, including inflammatory and non-inflammatory, and different forms have different causes. Symptoms of arthritis may affect joints in the back, ankle, fingers, hands, muscles, neck, or wrists.

Frequent Symptoms

Arthritis pain can be intermittent or persistent and may develop suddenly or gradually. The condition tends to worsen over time, as joints deteriorate. Common symptoms include:


Joint pain is the symptom that drives most people with arthritis to initially seek medical care. According to the Centers for Disease Control, of the almost 55 million adults who have arthritis in the United States, almost a third of women and close to a quarter of men experience severe joint pain.

The characteristics of arthritis pain can vary depending on the type and the severity of the condition.

  • Achiness in joints that worsens with activity and dissipate with rest
  • Worsening of pain with relatively colder temperatures and changes in barometric pressure, (temperatures moving either up or down) which scientists theorize can cause joints to expand
  • Worsening of pain with increased mental stress which sets off the body's inflammatory response
  • Pain upon arising in the morning, which then subsides after about an hour
  • Tenderness to the touch, meaning pressing around the joint elicits pain

Severe joint pain: Your pain could be rated as 7 or higher out of 10 on a scale of 0 (no pain) to 10 (as bad as it can be).

Persistent pain: You have pain (of any severity) on most or all days in the past 3 months.

Weight gain, which increases pressure on joints, and certain repetitive movements can exacerbate pain (as well as being among the causes of arthritis for some people).


Swelling of a joint can occur in many conditions, but the most common cause of joint swelling is arthritis. The second most common cause is an injury to the joint. If no injury has occurred, it is likely that swelling is due to arthritis. Blood tests may help determine the cause.


People who have arthritis almost always feel stiffness in their joints. You can check your joint motion by comparing it to the joint on the opposite side. Stiffness is usually worse in the morning or after long periods of sitting in one position.

As the joint moves with activity, it usually loosens since physical activity distributes synovial fluid within the joints, keeping them well-lubricated and mobile.

Changes in Appearance

As joint cartilage is worn away by arthritis, the extremity may take on a deformed appearance. Just as if the tread is worn off your car tires, if joint cartilage deteriorates enough, the joint may take on an angled appearance. This is often seen in the hands as crooked fingers. In the knee joint, people with arthritis may develop a knock-kneed or bow-legged appearance.

Arthritis can cause the formation of pockets of fluid (mucous cysts) or bone spurs. Cysts and some types of bone spurs are felt as knobby protuberances around the joint. They may or may not be sensitive to the touch, but they do give a lumpy appearance to the joint. Most people notice these on the small joints of the fingers, although they can occur throughout the body.


As joint cartilage is worn away, the smooth lining covering the rough bone is lost. When the bone is exposed, the joint may not move smoothly. You may feel or even hear a grinding sensation.

Warmth and Redness

Joint inflammation can lead to symptoms of joint redness and warmth. These symptoms should be evaluated by your doctor because they can also suggest a joint infection. However, it is not uncommon for the inflammation associated with arthritis to lead to redness and warmth of the joint.


If arthritis progresses unchecked, it can eventually affect your ability to engage in tasks of daily living, especially when it affects your hands, wrists, shoulders or knees. If you develop arthritis of the knees and hips, it may alter your gait and prevent you from walking or sitting comfortably. Limbs can become twisted and deformed. Those with rheumatoid arthritis can develop nodules on the skin, eye problems, heart and blood vessel disease and lung problems. Chronic health problems can also lead to depression. 

When to See a Doctor

Make an appointment with your doctor if your joint symptoms last three days or more or you experience several episodes within a month. If you find that you are limiting your activities or unable to manage your arthritis symptoms, consider seeing a specialist.

You may find symptoms improve simply by taking an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory, like ibuprofen, or by adding turmeric to your diet, which has been clinically shown to be as effective as ibuprofen at relieving arthritis inflammation.

If simple remedies don't help, or you notice changes in symptoms that are unusual (for example, a stiff joint that normally improves after 15 minutes of exercise becomes swollen and red-hot) you should visit your doctor. You should also see your doctor if you notice that your pain doesn't improve with rest or you experience new aches and pains.

A Word From Verywell

Athough arthritis is a progressive disease, rest assured that there are steps you can take to prevent arthritis progression. Most people who visit an orthopedic surgeon don't need surgery to improve their condition but can manage symptoms with a treatment plan that might include physical therapy, a new exercise regimen and diet changes. Arthritis doesn't have to stop you from living an active life.

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Article Sources
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