Generally, arthritis affects one specific joint or multiple joints. It may also become migratory, meaning it moves from one joint to another.

The term “arthritis” refers to a group of conditions that involve swelling and pain in the joints. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), arthritis affects around 58.5 million American adults.

Migratory arthritis describes when the condition travels from one joint to another. This article discusses what migratory arthritis is, what causes it, how to prevent it, and when to seek help.

Image of ducks flying against a sunsetShare on Pinterest
sharply_done/Getty Images

Migratory arthritis is a form of arthritis in which the pain or inflammation of arthritis moves from one joint to another. People with migratory arthritis typically complain of pain that moves from one joint to another. Other symptoms of migratory arthritis may include the following:

  • joint swelling
  • loss of function
  • stiffness
  • deformity
  • joint instability

The initial pain in one joint may resolve before commencing in another joint. For example, individuals with Whipple disease or arthritis due to Neisseria infection may notice total resolution of pain in an involved joint before the pain moves to another joint. The inflammatory reaction of arthritis and the underlying cause are partly responsible for how migratory arthritis spreads.

Medical conditions that link with chronic inflammation and certain infections can cause migratory arthritis. Common medical conditions that may cause migratory arthritis include:

  • Rheumatic fever: This is a chronic inflammatory disease that occurs due to Streptococcus infection of the throat. It also causes joint pain and swelling, which typically migrates from one joint to another.
  • Autoimmune disorders: Certain autoimmune conditions, such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), can affect the joints because the immune system attacks different joint tissues. Also, the systemic inflammatory reactions in SLE can trigger migratory arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can also present as migratory arthritis.
  • Gout: Individuals with high blood levels of uric acid may accumulate crystals in the joints that can stimulate joint inflammation and pain. If the blood level of uric acid remains high without prompt intervention, the pain and inflammatory changes may spread to other joints.
  • Infectious causes: Bloodborne infectious organisms can travel to and gain entry into multiple joints. These microbes can cause joint tissue damage, which results in pain and inflammatory changes seen in migratory arthritis. Infections such as hepatitis B and C can also cause migratory arthritis.

In some cases, doctors may not know the exact cause of migratory arthritis. Therefore, consulting a doctor for proper clinical evaluation is essential for some people.

Prevention of migratory arthritis requires dietary and lifestyle changes. The following prevention strategies can reduce the risk of developing migratory arthritis:

  • Eating a balanced diet: Refined foods contain saturated fats and added sugars, which may trigger systemic inflammation. Therefore, eating nutritious whole foods, such as fruits, can reduce the risk of joint inflammation and decrease the risk of gaining excess weight.
  • Maintaining a moderate weight: This can help reduce stress on weight-bearing joints.
  • Seeking prompt medical intervention: It is best to contact a doctor if a person notices signs of an infection, such as an unexplained fever.
  • Getting regular health screenings and check-ups: Individuals with chronic medical disorders such as SLE can benefit from periodic clinic visits. Frequent clinic visits can assist in detecting early joint damage, monitoring joint health, and preventing the progression of chronic medical disorders.

A rheumatologist is a doctor that specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of autoimmune conditions and inflammatory disorders that damage the joint and surrounding tissues.

A rheumatologist has the knowledge and experience to help people with migratory arthritis. The rheumatologist can conduct thorough clinical evaluations to diagnose underlying medical conditions or identify risk factors responsible for migratory arthritis in a person.

Also, a rheumatologist will be able to educate and advise people on which dietary and lifestyle changes may help prevent migratory arthritis. Therefore, individuals at risk of, or living with, migratory arthritis can typically benefit from working with a rheumatologist.

The following are some questions people frequently ask about migratory arthritis.

How long does migratory arthritis last?

The duration of migratory arthritis varies for each person. Individual and underlying causative factors can affect the course of migratory arthritis.

People with chronic medical conditions that are poorly managed may experience prolonged migratory arthritis. Therefore, early diagnosis and prompt treatment of chronic conditions can help at-risk individuals.

Is there a cure for migratory arthritis?

There is no known cure for migratory arthritis. Treatment depends on the underlying cause. Proper diagnosis of the cause is critical in determining the right treatment to relieve symptoms.

However, medications such as corticosteroids or NSAIDs may help in reducing the degree of inflammation and pain of migratory arthritis.

Migratory arthritis is a type of arthritis that is characterized by pain or inflammation that moves from one joint to another.

People with migratory arthritis may also notice symptoms such as joint swelling, loss of function, joint stiffness, and deformity. In some cases, the initial pain in one joint may resolve before commencing in another joint.

Rheumatic fever, autoimmune conditions, and gout are common causes of migratory arthritis. Certain dietary and lifestyle modifications may help prevent the onset of migratory arthritis. Working with a rheumatologist may be helpful for some individuals with recurrent or severe episodes of migratory arthritis.