SARS-CoV-2 is the virus responsible for COVID-19. People may report a wide range of symptoms, which continues to grow as experts learn more about the illness. While viral infections can cause joint swelling, it is not a common symptom of COVID-19.

However, people may experience joint swelling due to viral arthritis. There is also a growing number of reports of reactive arthritis associated with COVID-19.

People with arthritis may also be more likely to experience infections. This in turn puts them at a higher risk of severe symptoms and additional complications of COVID-19.

Some people may also confuse joint swelling with joint pain, or arthritis with arthralgia. While muscle and joint pain can be a symptom of COVID-19, it does not typically co-occur with the swelling and inflammation of a joint, which is characteristic of arthritis.

In this article, we will discuss the possible associations between joint swelling and COVID-19.

A person with joint swelling in their hands holding a face covering.Share on Pinterest
Oleg Elkov/Getty Images

People with COVID-19 report a wide range of symptoms, which may appear 2–14 days after exposure to SARS-CoV-2. They may include:

While COVID-19 is a respiratory condition, people have reported a surprising number of symptoms occurring outside the lungs.

Muscle pain is a common symptom of COVID-19, but other muscle and bone symptoms may also occur.

Some muscle and joint complications of COVID-19 may include:

  • muscle inflammation
  • nerve dysfunction causing weakness and numbness
  • diseases of the joints
  • abnormalities in soft tissues

Although viral infections can cause joint swelling, it appears that COVID-19 does not cause clinical arthritis but rather joint and muscle pain. Also, it may exaggerate symptoms in people with existing cases of arthritis.

A 2019 study notes that viral respiratory infections may be a risk factor for developing rheumatoid arthritis (RA). However, no reports currently link COVID-19 to cases of RA.

Nevertheless, COVID-19 is a new illness, and researchers are still collecting data to learn more about it. Symptom lists may still require updating.

Long COVID refers to a range of symptoms that may last weeks or months after the initial infection with SARS-CoV-2.

However, similarly to COVID-19, it appears that, while people may experience joint pain, joint swelling is not a common symptom of long COVID.

Some people may experience a reaction or adverse event following a vaccination against COVID-19. However, neither the Pfizer, Moderna, or Janssen vaccine seems to lead to joint swelling.

A 2021 article comments on the case report of an RA flare after a COVID-19 vaccination. It is of note, however, that researchers could not identify a cause of the flare or attribute it to the vaccination.

The American College of Rheumatology notes no concerns over vaccinations and recommends that people with rheumatic conditions, such as arthritis, should receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

Click here to learn more about possible side effects after COVID-19 vaccination.

The immune system aims to protect the body from pathogens such as SARS-CoV-2. However, in some cases, this immune response may result in an extreme inflammatory response, which can affect multiple sites in the body.

Research notes an association between viral infections, such as SARS-CoV-2, and rheumatic conditions, such as arthritis. A 2021 literature review suggests that post-SARS-CoV2 infection arthritis may arise due to viral and reactive arthritis.

Viral arthritis occurs when a virus invades a joint and triggers an immune response, causing inflammation in that joint. A 2020 article notes the possibility of viral arthritis being responsible for joint swelling during a SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Reactive arthritis is a type of inflammatory arthritis that occurs several days to weeks after an infection.

Although it is less common for respiratory infections to cause reactive arthritis, that there is a growing number of cases suggests this possibility.

Moreover, research notes that, although rare, it is possible that SARS-CoV-2 is triggering reactive arthritis.

However, it is worth noting that, while SARS-CoV-2 may contribute toward arthritis, experts associate coronaviruses more commonly with muscle or joint pain than with joint swelling.

The duration of COVID-19 symptoms varies widely. People often feel better within 2 weeks, but for some, this takes much longer.

In cases of long COVID, people may experience symptoms 60–90 days after the initial infection. However, others may experience symptoms for longer than this.

In cases of clinical arthritis, with appropriate treatment, which may involve nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), joint swelling should resolve within a few days but may persist for a few weeks.

To help reduce symptoms of COVID-19 — including joint swelling — at home, it is advisable to get plenty of rest, drink a lot of fluids, and take over-the-counter anti-inflammatories. NSAIDs may help relieve pain and discomfort resulting from inflammation.

Learn more about home remedies for COVID-19 here.

Some people may prefer to use herbal remedies to reduce joint swelling. Studies suggest that some herbal remedies, such as boswellia and turmeric, may help alleviate symptoms of arthritis. However, further research is necessary to confirm their effectiveness.

People can also try cold treatment. This can involve applying a cold pack or a bag of ice wrapped in a towel to swollen areas. However, people should limit cold treatment to 20 minutes at a time.

Learn more about home remedies for arthritis here.

People who already have arthritis may be more likely to contract the virus causing COVID-19. They may also be at risk of worse outcomes following a SARS-CoV-2 infection.

This is because treatments for arthritis may modify or suppress the immune system, which can increase the likelihood of infection.

However, people who are able to manage and control their arthritis should not be at a higher risk than the general public. People should also continue taking their medication unless their doctor states otherwise.

Learn more about COVID-19 and arthritis here.

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that may cause other symptoms outside of the lungs. People may experience symptoms of muscle and joint pain, but it is not common for people to have joint swelling.

Research suggests that, while rare, viral and reactive arthritis may result in joint swelling that people may experience after a SARS-CoV-2 infection.

A doctor may suggest anti-inflammatory medication to reduce joint swelling and other symptoms of COVID-19.