9 Warning Signs of Arthritis

Common Symptoms Even Healthcare Providers Sometimes Miss

Arthritis symptoms should not be ignored. By spotting the warning signs early, you can get an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment before serious disability occurs.

A woman rubbing her arthritic hand
Michelle Gibson / E+ / Getty Images

The problem, of course, is that there is not just one form of arthritis. Some types are characterized by "classic" symptoms like enlarged joints or unremitting stiffness and pain, while others are more subtle and easily mistaken for other medical conditions.

Here are 9 common signs of arthritis you may not know about:

Joint Pain

If you are experiencing joint pain, details matter. When you consult with your healthcare provider, you will be asked if joint pain developed suddenly or gradually and how long the joint pain has persisted. Your healthcare provider will want to also know if the pain worsens with physical activity or if the pain goes away completely when resting.

Arthritis is broadly characterized by morning stiffness and pain that gradually improves once you start moving.

Joint Tenderness

Joint tenderness is more closely associated with rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune form of arthritis characterized by persistent inflammation.

Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, involves the wearing away of the cartilage in your joints. With rheumatoid arthritis, the membrane that protects and lubricates joints becomes inflamed, causing tenderness. This occurs in combination with other signs, including joint pain, joint effusion, joint swelling, warmth, and redness.

Joint Stiffness

Joint stiffness can be one of the earliest signs of arthritis. Joint stiffness is defined as discomfort after a period of inactivity (such as waking up in the morning or sitting for an extended period of time), decreased range of motion or a loss of range of motion in a joint.

With osteoarthritis, morning stiffness may last up to 30 minutes. With inflammatory forms of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, the stiffness tends to last longer, often up to an hour or more depending on the extent of joint damage.

Joint Redness

Joint redness usually indicates there is some sort of inflammatory process occurring. Your healthcare provider will typically perform tests (such as erythrocyte sedimentation rate and C-reactive protein to better pinpoint the cause of joint inflammation, whether it be inflammatory arthritis or some form of joint infection.

Warm Joints

Warm or hot joints are another sign of inflammation, infection, or injury. If arthritis is involved, warmth tends to suggest a more serious form of the diseases, such as septic arthritis caused by a bacterial or fungal infection in the joint or reactive arthritis caused by a bacterial infection elsewhere in the body.


The initial onset of arthritis can be associated with fever. This is a symptom linked to many different medical conditions, but don't overlook arthritis as a possible cause . A fever develops as the body raises its temperature to fight infection or in response to certain inflammatory forms of arthritis.

Fever is a common symptom of rheumatoid arthritis often overlooked by healthcare providers. Rheumatoid arthritis can affect multiple organs and causes widespread inflammation, leading to persistent, low-grade fevers.


Malaise is described as a general ill feeling or lack of well-being. Malaise can most certainly occur if living with unrelenting pain, inflammation, or loss of mobility. It is not about having a negative attitude; it is considered a direct physical consequence of living with unremitting disease or disability.

Persistent Fatigue

Another sign related to arthritis is excessive fatigue. We all get tired from time to time, but excessive fatigue implies deep-rooted fatigue that's present even after a good night's sleep.

Like malaise, excessive fatigue can result from the combined effects of inflammation and joint symptoms. As such, you'll most likely experience chronic fatigues with an inflammatory form of arthritis, like rheumatoid arthritis, than you would with an non-inflammatory form, like osteoarthritis.

Skin Nodules

Certain types of arthritis are associated with nodules, or lumps that develop near a joint. Scientists aren't entirely clear why they occur but consider them a characteristic feature of rheumatoid arthritis.

Around 25% of people with rheumatoid arthritis will develop firm, non-tender nodules just beneath the surface of the skin. Some may be as small a lentil or as large as a walnut.

Common sites include the fingers, knuckles, elbows, forearms, knees, and back of the heels.

A Word From Verywell

Arthritis signs tend to snowball: joint pain and stiffness can lead to fatigue and malaise. Joint stiffness also affects the normal range of motion which, in turn, causes you to have more difficulty performing usual daily activities. And so it goes, each arthritis sign impacts another.

It is important that you recognize early arthritis signs so that you can seek appropriate treatment. Consult a healthcare provider for guidance about treatment options and managing the disease. If you choose to ignore arthritis signs, you risk further joint damage and disability.

4 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.
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By Carol Eustice
Carol Eustice is a writer covering arthritis and chronic illness, who herself has been diagnosed with both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.