You know sore, achy joints are arthritis's hallmark. But pain isn't the only symptom an arthritis sufferer may have to contend with.
"In a lot of cases, people notice other things showing up before they ever have pain," says Kevin Shea, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at St. Luke's Health System in Boise.
There are more than a dozen different types of arthritis, and Shea says each type is associated with its own set of symptoms. Also, every individual arthritis sufferer may experience the disease in her own way, he adds.
Why keep an eye out for these symptoms? "Depending on the type of arthritis, if you catch it early your doctor may be able to help you slow its progression," Shea says. Early detection could also give your doc the chance to administer anti-inflammation drugs, or recommend lifestyle changes that will keep you on your feet and active. (Your diet can make a HUGE difference in your pain. Prevention's Eat For Extraordinary Health And Healing has tons of delicious recipes that can soothe joint pain, help you lose weight, and more. Try it for free today!)
So what are those non-pain symptoms you need to watch out for? Keep reading.
For a lot of people, arthritis begins as feelings of joint stiffness. "You try to bend or straighten the joint, and it feels tight or full," Shea says. "It also may be hard to move to one side." This stiffness could strike any time (or all the time), but tends to be worse early in the day—before you've had time to "warm up" your joints, he adds. These 7 stretches can help ease your arthritis pain.
Compare your left wrist or knee to your right. If one looks bigger or puffier than the other—and assuming you didn't recently sprain or injure the joint in question—that swelling could indicate arthritis. "Sometimes people notice the swelling more towards the end of the day," Shea says. You may also find that the swelling accompanies feelings of joint stiffness.
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Catching Or Grinding
If your knee or wrist ever feels like its tendons are somehow tied up or "catching" on one another, that's another early symptom, Shea says. "Sometimes a patient will notice the catching or grinding, and then the pain will come later," he explains. (Here are 7 things you don't know about arthritis but really should.)
Unlike degenerative arthritis, which is basically "wear and tear" that slowly breaks down the padding of your joints, rheumatoid arthritis is a condition in which your body's immune system attacks your joints, Shea says. This could lead to inflammation, both acute (in or around your joint) and systemic (throughout your body). Systemic inflammation related to rheumatoid arthritis could leave you feeling unusually wiped out or fatigued (take a look at 7 more reasons you're tired all the time).
Fever Or Loss Of Appetite
These are two more symptoms associated with the kind of systemic inflammation that stems from rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Because RA sufferers tend to experience "flare-ups," or periodic increases in inflammation, these symptoms may be strong at times and absent at others, says the Arthritis Foundation.
Redness Or Skin Rashes
In some cases, arthritis sufferers may notice their joints look red or irritated—even if they aren't hurting, Shea says. Also, a form of the disease called "psoriatic arthritis" can cause red, flaky, scaly skin issues.
Poor Range Of Motion
Your wrist or ankle seems less mobile than it used to be. Or maybe you reach for a high shelf, and your shoulder doesn't want to lift your arm above your head. These and other range-of-motion issues—especially if accompanied by pain—are often associated with arthritis, Shea says.