Arthritis in the arm can cause pain, swelling, and stiffness in the elbow, shoulder, or wrists. It may affect one or more joints, depending on the type of arthritis a person has.

Over 100 different types of arthritis and related disorders affect the joints throughout the body. Many can affect the joints in the arm.

Arthritis in the arms typically causes the joints of the elbows and shoulders to become stiff and painful, which can limit mobility.

This article reviews arthritis in the arm, including symptoms, causes, treatments, and more.

Several different types of arthritis can affect the joints in the arm. They include:

  • Osteoarthritis (OA): This is the most common type of arthritis. It can make movement more difficult due to pain and stiffness in the affected joints. It can develop in the elbows and shoulders, but this is less common.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA): This is a type of inflammatory arthritis. It is an autoimmune condition that often affects the joints in the hand and wrist but can affect any joint in the body.
  • Psoriatic arthritis (PsA): This is another type of inflammatory arthritis that often develops in people living with psoriasis. It can affect the elbows, hands, wrists, and any other joint in the body.
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The exact cause of OA is not always known, but several factors can influence its development, including:

  • genetics
  • advanced age, as it typically affects people over the age of 45
  • wear and tear
  • playing contact sports

Other forms of arthritis have different causes. For example, RA is an autoimmune disorder where a person’s immune system causes widespread inflammation.

The exact cause is not known. However, researchers believe that people have certain genes triggered by a virus or bacteria or physical and emotional stress.

According to VersusArthritis, PsA develops in 3 in 10 people who have psoriasis, which is a skin condition that causes scaly patches of skin.

Similarly to RA, PsA may develop when people with certain genes can become triggered by environmental factors, such as:

Arthritis in the arm can cause:

  • pain
  • stiffness
  • tenderness or swelling

For some people, OA may not cause any symptoms in the arms. When it does, it can cause pain, stiffness, and swelling. OA can affect one or both arms and may only affect one joint.

RA can cause similar symptoms, but it will often affect more than one joint. It can also cause additional symptoms that affect other parts of the body, such as:

People with RA may experience the symptoms on both sides of the body.

Symptoms of PsA include:

  • fatigue
  • swollen fingers or toes
  • reduced range of motion
  • stiffness and tiredness upon waking
  • nail changes, such as pitting
  • uveitis, which refers to pain and redness of the eye

The symptoms of PsA can be mild and develop slowly. Alternatively, they can develop quickly and be severe.

Management may include a combination of medical therapies, such as pain relief medications and systemic drugs, and home remedies to ease the pain and stiffness, such as exercise and heat therapy.

A person can help reduce the strain they put on the joints of the arms by taking a few precautions, such as:

  • carrying lighter loads
  • asking for help with moving larger objects
  • wearing braces or supports
  • improving posture when sitting and standing

An occupational or physical therapist may be able to provide a person with additional tips on managing their arthritis symptoms with basic accommodations.


Exercise can help improve symptoms related to arthritis in the arms. It can also help with a person’s overall health and well-being.

Three types of exercises may help. These are:

  • aerobic exercise
  • range of motion exercises, which improves the flexibility and movement of the joints
  • strength exercises, which help build strong muscles around the joints to better support them

Before starting any new exercise routine, a person should consider talking with a doctor. They can help assess their overall health and may make recommendations on where to start.

Individuals should start slowly and with lighter weights and then build their fitness level over time.


Dietary changes will not specifically help with OA and PsA. However, some evidence suggests that the Mediterranean diet may help with the inflammation associated with RA.

The Mediterranean diet focuses on whole grains, fatty fish, fruits, and oils.

Diet cannot replace treatment for RA or other forms of arthritis. However, it can help a person maintain a healthy weight and avoid additional health complications.

People may find concentrating on eating vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats may help to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

Coping with low mood and sleeping difficulties

Arthritis can take a mental toll on a person, leading to anxiety and depression related to the condition. Depression and anxiety can lead to sleep issues.

A person may benefit from psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or traditional talk therapy.

RA and PsA can both cause fatigue, which can make a person feel extremely tired even after rest.

A person may find the following steps help improve sleep quality:

  • making the bedroom dark, quiet, and cool
  • removing electronic devices from the bedroom, such as TVs and computers
  • going to bed at the same time each night
  • avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and large meals before bed
  • participating in regular exercise

Pain relief can involve medical interventions, such as medications, or nonmedical interventions, such as heat therapy and acupuncture.

People’s responses to pain relief will vary. As a result, it is important for individuals to work with a medical professional to find the right combination of therapies.

People with RA or PsA will also need to take measures to prevent flares or periods of worsening symptoms. This often involves the use of systemic medications.


Several medications may help with pain associated with arthritis. A person may want to talk with a medical professional about which medications are safe for them to take.

Some examples include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen and aspirin, provide some inflammation relief along with pain relief for stiff, swollen joints.
  • Pain killers: Medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) can help target pain associated with arthritis.
  • Steroid injections: These can provide direct pain relief to the affected joints.
  • Medicated creams: Medicated creams can help relieve the affected joints through a cream or ointment a person rubs into the affected joints.

A person with RA or PsA may need additional medications to help prevent their condition from flaring up. They should work with a doctor who specializes in their conditions to help ensure they get the care they need.

Other types of pain relief

Several other types of therapy may provide some pain relief, including:

In severe cases, a person may benefit from surgical intervention. A doctor may recommend surgery if nonsurgical methods have not worked.

Shoulder or elbow replacements may help in some cases to restore movement and stop the pain in the joints of the arms.

A person should speak with a doctor if they suspect they may be developing arthritis in the arms or other areas of their body.

People with psoriasis have a higher chance of developing PsA and should contact a doctor if they notice any joint pain.

A person should prepare to share information such as:

  • the presence of a rash
  • whether or not they feel fatigued or have other symptoms seemingly unrelated to joint pain
  • family medical history
  • the severity of pain and stiffness
  • when the pain or stiffness appears to worsen
  • work history, such as manual labor that may have contributed to arthritis development
  • the presence of other health conditions that may affect treatment

When consulting a doctor, a person may find preparation with questions and information can help. Some potential questions include:

  • Will they need to run any tests?
  • What therapies do they recommend?
  • Are there any medications to avoid?

Diagnosis will vary based on what type of arthritis a doctor or medical professional suspects. Diagnosis will likely take the following steps:

  • reviewing personal and family medical history
  • performing a physical examination of the affected joints, such as checking for pain levels and range of motion
  • ordering X-rays or other imaging technology to examine the joints

Once diagnosed, a doctor or other medical professional can develop a treatment plan to help manage pain, reduce stiffness, and improve range of motion.

Arthritis can affect the arm, causing stiffness, pain, and reduced range of motion. Several forms of arthritis can affect the arm, including OA, RA, and PsA.

A person can manage arthritis with a combination of medical interventions and home remedies. These can include medications, exercise, heat therapy, injections, and, in severe cases, surgery.