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Signs of Arthritis

Early symptoms to watch for detection of arthritis


Updated June 26, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

There are many types of arthritis, but most will start with similar symptoms. Keep an eye out for the early signs of arthritis, and let your doctor know if you think you may be developing symptoms of arthritis.

1. Joint Pain

Woman rubbing shoulder in pain
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The most common symptom of arthritis is joint pain, and this is the reason most people seek medical care for their arthritis. The type of pain can vary depending on the type of the arthritis and the severity of the condition. Most people who have arthritis describe an aching pain in the joint that is worsened by activity and relieved by rest. The amount of joint pain usually corresponds to the amount of activity.

2. Joint Swelling

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Swelling of a joint can occur with many conditions, but the most common cause of joint swelling is arthritis. The second most common cause of swelling is an injury to the joint. So if no injury has occurred, it is possible that the swelling is due to arthritis. Sometimes laboratory analysis of the fluid itself can help determine if there is arthritis or another cause of joint swelling.

3. Stiffness of Joints

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 a bit. Other ways to loosen a stiff joint are with heat application and anti-inflammatory medications.

4. Deformity of Joints

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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 enough joint cartilage is worn away, 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.

5. Grinding Sensations

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. Place your hand on the joint as you bend back and forth and feel for a grinding sensation of the joint.

6. Lumps and Bumps Around Joints

hip arthritis bone spur
Image © Medical Multimedia Group
Arthritis can cause the formation of pockets of fluid (mucous cysts) or bone spurs. These 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.

7. Joint Tenderness

Photo © Amanda Rohde
Joints that are arthritic are tender to the touch. If one side of the joint is more involved with arthritis than the other, the worse side is usually more tender. Pressing around the joint and having an elicit pain is a reasonable indication that the joint is inflamed, and that it may have underlying arthritis.

8. Warm/Red Joints

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


"Learn About Arthritis" © 2008, Arthritis Foundation.

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