Joint inflammation often comes with pain, redness, and swelling of the joint. Inflammation is an important response by the body that tells you something is wrong with the joint. There are multiple underlying causes of joint inflammation.


Infection can affect the joints by various means. Sometimes infection occurs because of a direct impact on the joint, or there may be a broken bone that protrudes from the skin, allowing pathogens to enter the joint. Reactive arthritis is a byproduct of infections elsewhere in the body that ultimately cause inflammation in the joints. Some systemic infections, such as sexually transmitted infections like chlamydia, may present as joint pain. Gastrointestinal infections, such as those associated with food poisoning, can affect joints. In some instances, if the infection can be treated with antibiotics, the joint inflammation may disappear, but in some instances the problem persists even after the infection has cleared.


Friction is by far the most common cause of joint inflammation. Previous injuries to the joint and surrounding soft tissues, even once healed, may adversely affect the biomechanics of the joint, causing friction between the bones on either side of the joint. Similarly, the cartilage that cushions the joint may wear down over time, often with age, and no longer adequately protect the joint surfaces, causing friction. This form of joint inflammation is caused by osteoarthritis. There are various approaches used to reduce inflammation, depending on the severity of the problem. In the early stages of osteoarthritis, anti-inflammatory pain relievers and steroid injections can reduce occasional issues with pain and mobility. Other options include joint injections that are designed to provide lubrication to the joint and reduce friction. As osteoarthritis progresses, it may be necessary to replace the joint, either through a partial or total joint replacement.


Joint inflammation can also be caused by an abnormal immune response. Inflammatory or autoimmune arthritis occurs when the immune system mistakes healthy tissue for a foreign substance and begins attacking the tissue. There are many variations of autoimmune arthritis, depending on the primary joints affected. For example, ankylosing spondylitis generally affects the spine, ribs, and pelvis, but it may also affect other joints like the wrists. Both psoriatic and rheumatoid arthritis can affect almost any part of the skeleton, with the smaller joints of the fingers and toes being the primary targets. Medications to suppress the immune system are the primary treatment for autoimmune arthritis. When the immune system is suppressed, it is less likely to cause permanent damage to the joints.

There are various causes of joint inflammation, each having a different prognosis and treatment approach. Any instance of joint inflammation should be evaluated so you can receive treatment promptly and reduce the likelihood of permanent damage and long-term mobility problems.