How Does Plaque Psoriasis Affect the Elbows and Knees?

Plaque psoriasis is an inflammatory autoimmune condition that can cause “plaques” to form on the skin on any part of the body. Plaques are areas of inflamed, thickened skin that are often covered in silver scaly patches. The areas affected by the symptoms can be itchy and painful.

Two of the most common places on the body to be affected by plaque psoriasis are the elbows and the knees. In fact, one study of people living with plaque psoriasis found that almost half of the people had psoriasis symptoms on their elbows.1 Around 1 in 3 people in the study reported that they had patches of plaque psoriasis on their knees.

What are the symptoms of plaque psoriasis on the elbows and knees?

Psoriasis plaques on the knees and elbows can take different forms in different people, and can change for the same person over time. There might be a couple of small patches, or the entire knee or elbow might be covered. Because of their position on joints of the body that are constantly moving during normal activities, psoriasis plaques on the knees and elbows can often tend to have small cracks form in the dry, thickened skin2. These cracks are called “fissures.” Fissures can cause some bleeding at times, and they can be painful.

How can plaque psoriasis on the elbows and knees be treated?

People living with plaque psoriasis have a wide range of treatment options. Healthcare providers will often advise people with mild psoriasis on the elbows and knees to try using topical medicines to relieve their symptoms.3 Topical medicines are usually creams or ointments that are applied directly to the skin that is affected by psoriasis. Some topical medicines are available over the counter, but some stronger ones will require a prescription. Coal tar and salicylic acid are over-the-counter topical medicines commonly used to treat plaque psoriasis. Because the plaques on the knees and elbows can be especially dry and prone to painful cracking, some people find that special, thick moisturizers can help. While moisturizers will not treat the cause of the psoriasis plaques, many people find that they offer some relief and help to reduce dryness and cracking.

Some people may find that they need a more powerful prescription topical medicine to control their symptoms. There are topical creams that contain special forms of Vitamin A and others that contain Vitamin D. Topical corticosteroids are also helpful for some people.

People who have more severe forms of plaque psoriasis may need a different type of treatment, called systemic medicines4. Unlike topical medicines which are applied to the skin, systemic medicines are taken by mouth (in a tablet or liquid) or through an injection or IV. Systemic medicines are very strong and have an effect on the entire body, which may increase the potential for unwanted side effects.

Tips for living with plaque psoriasis on the elbows and knees

Prescription medications are not the only ways for people with plaque psoriasis can help to manage psoriasis on the elbows and knees. For example, some people find that routines such as taking a daily lukewarm bath and avoiding harsh soaps can provide some relief by loosening scales and soothing the skin.

Most people with psoriasis find that the condition will flare up for a period of time, during which the symptoms become worse. These flare-ups are often caused by certain triggers, and everyone has a different set of triggers for their disease2. To help prevent flare-ups, it can be helpful to try and identify your own personal triggers so that you can try to avoid them if possible. Common triggers for plaque psoriasis flare-ups are things like stress, skin injuries, smoking, and getting too much sun exposure.

Written by: Anna Nicholson | Last reviewed: July 2016.
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