Symmetric arthritis affects the same joints on both sides of the body, such as knees or wrists. Asymmetric arthritis affects the joints on just one side of the body.

Arthritis refers to inflammation in one or more of the joints in the body.

There are many other types and characteristics of arthritis, and treatment may vary slightly depending on the type of arthritis a person has.

In this article, learn about the difference between symmetric and asymmetric arthritis. We also cover diagnosis and treatment.

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Symmetric and asymmetric arthritis refer to which sides of the body arthritis affects.

A person with symmetric arthritis will experience symptoms in mirrored joints on both sides of the body.

For example, a person with symmetrical arthritis of the knee will have symptoms in both knees at the same time.

A person with asymmetric arthritis will only experience symptoms in joints on one side of the body, for example, in a knee and a wrist.

Arthritis either has an inflammatory or noninflammatory cause.

Inflammatory arthritis generally occurs because of an underlying issue, such as an autoimmune response. Noninflammatory arthritis usually has a physical cause, such as an injury or wear and tear on the joints.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an inflammatory, symmetrical form of arthritis. Symmetry is the key determinant in diagnosing this autoimmune disease.

However, a person may not have symptoms on both sides at the beginning of the disease. It will become symmetrical as the disease progresses.

While it can affect any joint, people commonly experience symptoms in the:

  • hands
  • wrists
  • ankles
  • feet
  • knees
  • jaw
  • elbows
  • shoulders
  • spine


Noninflammatory forms of arthritis caused by wear and tear, such as osteoarthritis, typically produce asymmetrical symptoms.

Symptoms frequently occur in the spine and the weight bearing joints, such as the knee or hip, but can occur in any joint.

Psoriatic arthritis

Psoriatic arthritis (PsA) is an inflammatory type of arthritis. However, it can cause both symmetrical and asymmetrical symptoms, which distinguishes it from other forms of arthritis.

Typically, however, people who have PsA experience asymmetrical symptoms. The authors of a 2015 study found this to be the case in 53.1% of their participants who took part in the study.

PsA is an autoimmune condition in which the body attacks healthy cells in the joints, ligaments, and skin.

Other areas of involvement in psoriatic arthritis include:


Spondylitis causes inflammation in the spine. The person may feel symptoms anywhere along the spine, including the neck, back, or sacrum.

Severe spondylitis can cause the bones in the spine to fuse or make specific movements very painful or impossible.

Distal interphalangeal predominant

Distal interphalangeal predominant (DIP) affects the small joints at the tips of the fingers and toes.

Along with symptoms in the fingers and toes, the nails may also change color or shape. The nails of the hands and feet may become pitted and develop ridges.

Arthritis mutilans

Arthritis mutilans is a rare but debilitating form of psoriatic arthritis. It causes the small bones in the hands, feet, and even along the spine to break down. This can cause severe pain and permanent deformities.

It can take time for a doctor to diagnose the correct form of arthritis, but accurate identification is crucial for treatment. A doctor will ask the person about their symptoms, including all the areas they feel symptoms. They will also do a physical exam.

The doctor will check the skin for signs of psoriasis to help them diagnose PsA. The National Psoriasis Foundation note that about 85% of people with PsA develop symptoms on their skin before their joints.

Doctors also commonly use imaging tests to diagnose arthritis by looking at the joints, bones, and other structures. These tests can include:

X-ray and CT scans may help doctors look at the structures, such as bones. Doctors use MRI scans and ultrasounds to detect inflammation or wear in the softer connective tissues in the joints.

While there is currently no cure for arthritis, treatment is crucial to slow the progression of arthritis and help control symptoms. Getting the right treatment can significantly improve a person’s quality of life.

Treatment often includes disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), which may slow the progression of the damage in the joints and help control symptoms.

Doctors may also recommend targeted biologics, which focus on the immune system to modify the course of the disease.

Corticosteroids may also help control inflammation quickly while other drugs take effect.

Many doctors will include home remedies as part of a treatment plan for arthritis. These may include:

  • Pain medications: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen sodium (Aleve), may help control pain and swelling.
  • Rest: It is essential to rest the affected joints, especially when they feel stiff or swollen.
  • Exercise: Low impact exercises, such as swimming or cycling, can help strengthen the muscles and promote flexibility in the joints.
  • Hot and cold packs: Heat packs help soothe stiff joints and muscles, whereas cold packs help reduce inflammation and pain.
  • Healthful diet: Some foods, including fast food and processed food, may trigger or promote inflammation.
  • Weight management: Maintaining a healthy weight may reduce the impact on the affected joints

Symmetric and asymmetric are terms that describe how arthritis affects a person’s body.

Symmetric arthritis affects the same joints on both sides of the body, whereas asymmetric arthritis affects one or more joints on one side only.

Treatment will vary depending on the underlying cause and severity of the arthritis. Some people use home remedies to help manage their symptoms.

Anyone experiencing symptoms of arthritis should see a doctor. Anyone with psoriasis should also speak to a doctor to discuss the possibility of psoriatic arthritis and early management.