Joint effusion, commonly known as joint swelling, is characterized by enlargement of the joint due to extra fluid in the affected area. Joint swelling can be linked to a previous injury as well, such as a broken or fractured bone. Moreover, it can be caused by an underlying disease or medical condition such as an infection or, in numerous cases, arthritis.
The up-build of the fluid that results in swollen joints can either be blood, clear exudate, or pus. Arthritis is considered to be one of the leading causes of swollen joints besides an injury. Arthritis mostly affects the joints that are in constant movements, such as knees, hips, or fingers.
Who is Likely to Experience Joint Swelling?
Although anyone can experience joint pain at any age, older people are more at risk of developing joint swelling as they have a higher chance of being diagnosed with arthritis. This is primarily due to a higher likelihood of deterioration of the ligaments and tendons in the most-used joints.
Moreover, obesity is another leading reason that results in faster deterioration of the joint ligaments. Repeated use of the joints in strenuous activities by overweight people can lead to joint swelling.
Symptoms Co-Occurring with Swollen Joints
- Stiffness in joints
- Redness in the area
- Decreased mobility
- Increased sensitivity to touch
- Deformed shape of the skin or affected joint
Above are the symptoms that commonly co-occur with swollen joints. In addition, the following are some signs and symptoms that indicate that you should seek medical attention immediately:
- Loss of consciousness or passing out
- Any alteration in mental status or noticeable change in the behavior, such as confusion, lethargy, delirium, delusions, or hallucinations
- Complete loss of mobility
- Severe headache
- Muscle paralysis
- Stiffness in the neck
- Unexplained weight loss or swelling
Causes of Swollen Joints
- Broken bone
- Gout (a form of arthritis caused by uric acid buildup)
- Joint dislocation
- Bursitis (inflammation of the bursa sac, which serves as a cushion for joints)
- Joint injury/surgery
- Rheumatic fever
- Neuropathic arthropathy
Remedies for Treating Swollen Joints
A mild to moderate pain due to swollen joints can be treated well at home. Unless the grave symptoms (mentioned above) that require medical attention are noticed, the following home remedies could relieve the pain:
Hot and Cold Therapy
Heat treatment for sore or swollen joints has proven to be quite effective and relaxing. Taking a hot relaxing shower in the early morning hours can help a lot in reducing stiffness. Also, electric blankets are recommended for people with arthritis as heat can reduce discomfort while they rest.
Cold treatments are also regarded as effective in relieving swollen or painful joints. To help relieve such pain and decrease inflammation, using a cold compress wrapped in a towel is highly recommended. It provides quick and instant relief.
Capsaicin is an ingredient in some of the topical ointments for joint pain or swelling relief. It comes from chili peppers and is mostly used in OTC medicines to treat joint pain by providing warmth to the swollen joint.
Acupuncture is one of the oldest Chinese medical treatments for a wide range of conditions. It comprises of inserting thin needles into some pre-designated and specific points on our body. The original concept behind this procedure is to reroute the energy and restore body balance.
This treatment has proven to effectively reduce arthritis, which is a major cause of swollen and painful joints. Though medical evidence backing this procedure is insufficient to draw conclusive statements, there is not enough data to declare it harmful.
Swollen joints are primarily related to over and excessive use of certain body joints, such as the knee. Therefore, meditation and relaxation techniques are great ways to slow down the pain and give the joints some due rest. These mindful exercises also help reduce the stress levels in your body; thus, decreasing inflammation.
National Institute of Health (NHI) has drawn results that point out the effectiveness of meditation as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis.
Have you ever wondered why people diagnosed with arthritis or joint pain are recommended to be mindful of their diet and cut down on red meat, saturated fats, processed foods, added sugar or salt, etc.? It is because a diet comprising of fresh fruits, whole foods, and vegetables works like magic for your immune system and overall health.
This is essential for toning down inflammation in the swollen joint and fueling the body’s immune system so that it can kick back.
This four-step treatment of swollen joints suggests that first of all, you should take a break from sports or any other strenuous activity that you do – for a minimum of 24 hours. It is not advisable to let the affected joint be immobile. A gentle flex to straighten out the knee would be good for maintaining a minimum range of motion.
Cold therapy or icing after taking a break is essential for easing the symptoms. This step helps the nearby blood vessels to shrink; thus, slowing down the blood flow and inflammation in the body. Icing can reduce fluid (also called synovial joint fluid) production in the joint, specifically in the swollen knee joint. Icing distracts the brain from picking up the pain signals.
However, make sure not to apply a cold compress or ice for more than 20 minutes at a time. You can repeat this 20-minute process several times a day. Nevertheless, ice should never be directly applied to the skin. So, always have it wrapped in a towel or cloth while applying.
This step is characterized by wrapping the swollen joint with an elastic bandage known as Ace bandage. Compression aids in decreasing the swelling and limiting pain in the surrounding areas.
The wrap or bandage should be kept loose rather than tight as it might result in more swelling. Unprofessional or careless wrapping of the joint might also lead to increased tingling, numbness, or pain.
The last step in this treatment is to keep the affected area elevated as much as possible. Elevation helps decrease the blood flow to the swollen joints, resulting in decreased inflammation, swelling, and discomfort. You can use some pillows to prop up your affected leg or arm while you lie down. There is even a leg elevation pillow available for people with severe swelling in the knee. It provides excellent support as it is made of firm foam material.
This RICE treatment for swollen joints is considered one of the best at-home treatments. The swelling is said to go in about 1 to 3 days. However, if the swelling persists and still does not go, it is best to consult a doctor.
Over-The-Counter Medications for Swollen Joints
Though the OTC medications do not guarantee to treat swollen joints, they can help relieve the symptoms and associated pain. Commonly used OTC medications to treat swollen and painful joints are:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen
- Acetaminophen – widely known as Tylenol – helps decrease associated pain
- Topical medications – it is advised to be applied directly on the skin over the affected area
Swollen Joints – An Early Sign
Swollen joints are very painful, but they are an indication that something is wrong in the body and needs to be addressed. For example, if there is swelling on the joint after you fall, it is a warning that your wound might be deeper and graver than it seems. Therefore, never ignore a swollen or painful joint as you might get into big trouble if you do not address the issue on time.