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It is important to be aware of early symptoms of arthritis as a delay in treatment can lead to permanent damage. This article outlines the 9 different early symptoms that can signal a diagnosis of arthritis.

Arthritis is a common disease that is composed of 100 different individual subtypes. The most common subtypes are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. While there is no cure for arthritis at this point, there are several treatments that can help prevent or slow down disease progression and damage to joints. Unfortunately, these treatments are most effective when the disease is caught early on and aggressive treatment is started as quickly as possible.

Therefore, it is very important to be aware of any early symptoms that could indicate the presence of arthritis, particularly if its runs in your family.

The key characteristics of arthritis are joint inflammation and pain. Watch out for these! If you feel any sort of joint symptoms coming on, it is important to go to a doctor to get checked out and treated, as delaying treatment can lead to permanent joint damage. These are the signs and symptoms specific to joints that you should be on the lookout for.

1. Pain or one of more joints

These aren't just the most frequent symptoms of arthritis, but also the ones that prompt most people to see a doctor. However, people will experience joint pain differently because the severity and type of pain differs across individuals. Joint pain will usually feel worse after activity and rest. The pain tends to correspond to the level of activity of the joint. So the more active you are, the more pain you'll be in. People often describe it as an “aching pain”. Changes in weather also sometimes aggravate joint pain in arthritis.

2. Inflammation or swelling of one or more joints

While swelling of joints can occur across a variety of different conditions, the most common cause is arthritis. The second most frequent cause of inflammation is injury to the joints. Therefore, if you haven’t experienced any injuries to the joint, then the swelling is most likely due to arthritis. In order to determine if joint swelling is caused by an autoimmune condition such as arthritis, the doctor can order bloods tests or sample the liquid that surrounds the swollen joint.

3. Stiffness in one or more joints, particularly in the morning

This is another major symptom that is indicative of arthritis. Stiffness also tends to develop after long periods of inactivity as keeping a joint moving keeps it flexible. One of the best ways to treat joint stiffness is by application of a hot or cold pack to the joint to loosen it. You can also take anti-inflammatory medication.

4. Tenderness or sensitivity of the area surrounding the joints

Arthritic joints tend to be a tender to the touch, and it is much worse in joints that are more involved with arthritis. This is an obvious symptom when you press around the joint in question and feel pain. In such a case, it is important to go to the doctor as you may have arthritis or an infection.

5. Problem moving a joint or restriction in the range of movement of your joint

This can be checked by comparing the range of motion of your joint to the same joint that is located on the other side of the body.

6. Deformity of joints

Arthritis tends to wear away a cushioning of the joints known as cartilage. When this happens, the extremity can appear deformed and the joints can appear angled or look as if it’s in an unnatural position. One of the major deformities that are seen are in the hands as crooked fingers. Deformities in the knees can appear with a knock-kneed or bow-legged appearance.

7. Grinding sensation of joints

Similar to the appearance of deformity, grinding sensation develops when the cushioning cartilage wears away. Cartilage protects the bones from touching each other. Therefore, when the bone is exposed, that causes the bones to touch each other and leads to a grinding sensation. One of the ways to determine whether you are experience this is by putting your hands on the joint in question and bending back and forth to feel if there is any grinding.

8. Lumps around the joint

Some subtypes of arthritis are characterized by pockets of fluid or bone growth called bone spurs. These feel and look lumpy around the joint and may be sensitive when you touch them. Generally, these occur in small joints of the fingers, but can also occur in other parts of the body.

9. Any other joint symptoms that cause you concern

Arthritis is different from person to person so you may feel symptoms that are specific to you and your subtype that are not listed here. Listen to your body and if you feel any joint problems, it is best to make an appointment with a doctor.


The symptoms listed here are particularly concerning if they last for three or more days and they recur several times within one month. In such a case, you should call your doctor and get a proper evaluation and diagnosis.

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  • Emery, P., et al. "Early referral recommendation for newly diagnosed rheumatoid arthritis: evidence based development of a clinical guide." Annals of the rheumatic diseases 61.4 (2002): 290-297.
  • Fleming, A., JUNE M. Crown, and M. A. R. Y. Corbett. "Early rheumatoid disease. I. Onset." Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases 35.4 (1976): 357-360.
  • Rasker, J. J., and J. A. Cosh. "The natural history of rheumatoid arthritis over 20 years. Clinical symptoms, radiological signs, treatment, mortality and prognostic significance of early features." Clinical rheumatology 6.2 (1987): 5-11.
  • Photo courtesy of SteadyHealth

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