Joint inflammation can have many underlying causes. In some instances, the problem is acute and can be remedied with proper medical care, but in many cases, joint inflammation is a byproduct of a chronic disease process. Read on to learn about three common causes of joint inflammation and how to address them.
Injury and Infection
Inflammation can be caused by injury to the joint itself or surrounding soft tissues. For example, injuries to the knee frequently result in torn or ruptured ligaments that support the knee. Typically when an injury occurs, there is obvious pain and swelling of the joint. Depending on the extent of the injury, the person may not be able to bear weight on the joint or the joint may dislocate. Infections are another cause of joint inflammation. Typically infection occurs when the skin is broken and it allows pathogens to enter the joint. Infections may also be caused by infections elsewhere in the body that eventually affect the joint by traveling through the bloodstream.
Several autoimmune diseases specifically affect the joints and surrounding tissues. Each type of inflammatory arthritis has a classic presentation, meaning it may affect a specific set of joints. For example, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can affect any joint, but it disproportionally affects the smaller joints of the hands and feet. In contrast, ankylosing spondylitis (AS) typically affects the axial skeleton, which consists of the spine, ribs, and pelvis. Some types of inflammatory arthritis can produce similar symptoms, such as psoriatic arthritis (PS) and RA. PS may occur without any obvious signs of psoriasis and it frequently affects the bones in the fingers and toes.
Inflammatory arthritis frequently has additional, systemic symptoms, such as fatigue and fever, especially during a flare-up of the disease. Lab tests can be useful in determining which form of inflammatory arthritis is the cause; note that a negative blood test does not mean inflammatory arthritis does not exist. The combination of symptom presentation and blood tests can help to determine an accurate diagnosis.
Osteoarthritis (OA) is a type of progressive joint damage that may affect any joint but is more common in the weight-bearing joints, such as the knees and hips. OA causes joint inflammation because the cartilage that typically cushions the joint deteriorates. This deterioration causes the bones on either side of the joint to rub against each other. As there is more bone-on-bone friction, the bones may develop spurs. Bone spurs can create the sensation that your joint catches on something when you bend or extend the joint.
Different underlying reasons for joint inflammation will dictate the best course of treatment. Finding an accurate diagnosis promptly can minimize the deterioration of the joint and the future need for a joint replacement.