Rheumatoid Arthritis Joint Symptoms and Signs: What Do They Mean?

What Is the Significance of Joint Pain, Swelling, Stiffness, Warmth, Limping, and Loss of Range of Motion?

Medical Author: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
Medical Editor: Catherine Burt Driver, MD

Every patient with rheumatoid arthritis has encountered joint symptoms. Doctors recognize that each symptom varies in location, intensity, and duration from patient to patient as well as at different times of day. But what do these symptoms suggest to the doctor? What can they mean for the patient? Why are they important, not only for initial diagnosis, but in monitoring the rheumatoid disease while on treatment?

Rheumatoid arthritis is a classic chronic disease that is characterized by inflammation in joints that can lead to permanent damage. Because it is chronic, optimal monitoring of the disease is mandatory in order to minimize its potentially damaging consequences. A major part of monitoring requires recognizing key symptoms that can indicate ongoing inflammation.

Joint pain and swelling can come from a variety of common causes that are not from inflammation. We recognize these as joint injuries, such as sprains or bruises, as well as wear and tear injuries of cartilage. In distinguishing the joint pain of rheumatoid arthritis from these non-inflammatory conditions, we search for other symptoms of inflammation and notice that many joints are being affected as opposed to single joints, such as from injury.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/1/2014