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Swollen Joint

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Mar 5, 2023.

What do I need to know about joint swelling?

Joint swelling may occur in one or more joints. You may have other symptoms, such as pain, tenderness, or stiffness. A swollen joint may be caused by a variety of conditions such as arthritis, pseudogout, gout, tendinitis, or injury.

How is joint swelling diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms. Your provider will examine your joint and check how well it moves in different directions. Blood tests or x-rays may be used to find the cause of the swelling. Your provider may also remove fluid from your joint and send it to a lab for tests.

How is joint swelling treated?

Treatment depends on the cause of your swollen joint. Your healthcare provider may recommend any of the following:

  • Rest your swollen joint. Avoid activities that make the swelling or pain worse. You may need to avoid putting weight on your joint while you have pain. Crutches or a walker can be used to avoid putting weight on joints in your lower body.
  • Apply ice on your swollen joint for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel. Ice helps prevent tissue damage and decreases swelling and pain.
  • Apply heat on your swollen joint for 20 to 30 minutes every 2 hours for as many days as directed. Heat helps decrease pain.
  • Elevate your swollen joint above the level of your heart as often as you can. This will help decrease swelling and pain. Prop your joint on pillows or blankets to keep it elevated comfortably.
  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You cannot move your joint at all.
  • You have severe pain that does not get better with medicine.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.
  • You have redness or warmth over the joint.
  • The swelling does not decrease with treatment.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.