If the joint swelling occurs after an injury, apply ice packs to reduce pain and swelling. Raise the swollen joint so that it is higher than your heart, if possible. For example, if your ankle is swollen, lay down with pillows comfortably placed underneath your foot so that your ankle and leg is slightly raised.
For those with arthritis, your doctor's treatment plan should be followed carefully.
Call your health care provider if
Call your health care provider immediately if you have joint pain and swelling with a fever.
Also call your health provider if you have:
Unexplained joint swelling
Joint swelling after an injury
What to expect at your health care provider's office
Your health care provider will obtain your medical history and will perform a physical examination. The joint will be closely examined. You will be asked questions about your joint swelling, such as:
Which joint is swollen?
Is more than one joint swollen?
When did the joint swelling develop?
Is it always swollen, or does it come and go?
Is this the first time you have had swollen joints?
How swollen is the area?
If you press over the swollen area with a finger, does it leave a dent after you take the finger away?
What makes the swelling worse?
Is it any worse in the morning or at night?
Does exercise make it worse?
What make the swelling better?
Does elevating the affected body part make the swelling go down?
Is it better if you use an elastic wrap?
What home treatment have you tried? How effective was it?
What other symptoms are also present?
Is there joint pain?
Is there fever?
Is there a rash?
Tests to diagnose the cause of joint swelling may include:
Physical therapy for muscle and joint rehabilitation may be recommended.
Davis JM III, Moder KG, Hunder GG. History and physical examination of the musculoskeletal system. In: Firestein GS, Budd RC, Harris ED Jr, et al, eds. Kelley's Textbook of Rheumatology. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2008:chap 35.
Bearcroft PPW. Joint disease. In: Adam A, Dixon AK, eds. Grainger & Allison's Diagnostic Radiology. 5th ed. New York, NY: Churchill Livingstone; 2008:chap 50.
Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.