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Old woman with joint pain and swelling.

Old woman with joint pain and swelling.
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Joint pain and swelling

Joint pain and swelling can affect any joint in the body, and is often accompanied by stiffness, aches and a feeling of heat or warmth.

Joint pain and swelling can be either acute or chronic.

Acute joint pain usually comes on quickly and lasts a short while. Some frequent causes of acute joint pain include:

  • injury, such as sprains and strains
  • overuse of the joint
  • infection
  • other illnesses, such as the flu.

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists recommends that X-rays are not necessary for all ankle injuries. Discuss with your doctor whether you will need an X-ray. For further information, visit the Choosing Wisely Australia website.

Chronic conditions come on slowly and cause long-term problems. Some types of joint pain and swelling may be caused by a rheumatic (or other) underlying condition.

The word 'rheumatic' refers to aches and pains affecting your joints, bones and muscles. While there are more than 200 different kinds of rheumatic conditions (including gout and lupus, the most common is arthritis, which means inflammation (swelling) of the joints.

The most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, which affects more than 3 million Australians.

Arthritis can affect people of any age, not just elderly people. However, it's important to remember that having joint pain and swelling doesn’t always mean that you have arthritis.

Anyone who experiences pain and swelling in one or more joints should discuss this with their doctor. If you have chronic joint pain and swelling, your doctor will be able to assess your situation.

Not sure what to do next?

If you are still concerned about your joint pain and swelling, check your symptoms with healthdirect’s online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.

The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).



Last reviewed: July 2015

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