Symptoms–Joint Pain & Swelling

Can psoriasis cause joint pain and swelling?

Psoriasis can lead to swelling and pain in the joints and can be a sign of a condition called psoriatic arthritis, an autoimmune condition with symptoms that are caused by inflammation. It is a chronic condition, meaning there is currently no cure, even though the symptoms may come and go.

Other symptoms of psoriatic arthritis include1:

  • Smaller range of motion in the joints
  • Swelling of entire fingers and/or toes
  • Tiredness
  • Nail changes affecting the fingers and/or toes
  • Stiffness in the morning

Joint pain and swelling due to psoriatic arthritis most commonly affect the finger and toe joints that are closest to the nail. Other common areas affected by the condition are the knees, ankles, wrists, hips, and lower back.

How common are joint pain and swelling among people with psoriatic arthritis?

Psoriatic arthritis is much more common among people who already have plaque psoriasis. It usually occurs between 5 and 12 years after the onset of psoriasis symptoms on the skin, although some people develop the two conditions at the same time. Healthcare providers regularly monitor psoriasis patients for signs and symptoms of psoriatic arthritis1.

Researchers estimate that around 10% to 30% of people with psoriasis will go on to develop psoriatic arthritis. The condition affects men and women at equal rates but is more common among Caucasians than among African Americans or Asian Americans2. Most people develop psoriatic arthritis between the ages of 30 and 50, but it can occur earlier or later in life. Like psoriasis, having a family member with psoriatic arthritis makes a person much more likely to develop the condition as well3.

How is psoriatic arthritis joint pain and swelling treated?

It is important to start treating joint pain and swelling due to psoriatic arthritis as quickly as possible. If left untreated, permanent joint damage can occur after only six months2. Your primary care physician may refer you to a rheumatologist who specializes in the treatment of arthritis. Many people also benefit from visiting a physical therapist.

For relatively mild symptoms of joint pain and swelling, pain relievers called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be helpful. NSAIDs include drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen, which work by reducing inflammation and thus the pain and swelling it causes. Healthcare providers may recommend an injection of corticosteroid directly into the affected joint in some cases3.

More severe cases of joint pain and swelling may require treatment with stronger medicines, such as disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs). DMARDs include methotrexate, sulfasalazine, leflunomide, and cyclosporine. Biologic therapies and systemic medications may also be needed to change the way the immune system is working and reduce the amount of inflammation it causes4.

Prescription medicine to treat pain that is sometimes prescribed for psoriatic arthritis joint pain include4:

  • Gabapentin
  • Pregabalin
  • Certain anti-depressants
  • Medicines containing capsaicin

The use of heat and cold packs can soothe painful flare-ups in the joints. Some people also find that acupuncture treatments or relaxation and meditation techniques can help with pain management.

Tips for living with joint pain and swelling

Protecting your joints from stress and damage is a key way to reduce pain and swelling. For example, you can use your entire hand or body to carry out tasks like lifting and pushing4. Your joints will also have less strain on them if you maintain a healthy body weight through a nutritious diet and regular exercise (preferably ones that do not stress the joints). Exercise can also help keep your joints lubricated and flexible, as well as building muscle to take pressure off the joints5.

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