Viral arthritis is an uncommon form of arthritis that occurs following a viral infection. It can cause joint pain and swelling that lasts for several weeks. Treatment generally involves managing symptoms.

Arthritis is a condition that affects a person’s joints. There are many types of arthritis, such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Some may refer to viral arthritis as post-viral arthritis since it is a temporary form of the condition in which its rheumatic symptoms occur after a viral infection.

Various viruses, including hepatitis B and rubella, may result in a person developing viral arthritis. Vaccinating against the diseases that cause viral arthritis may help prevent a person from developing it.

Read on to learn more about viral arthritis, including its causes, symptoms, and treatments.

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Viral arthritis is an uncommon condition that causes swelling and pain in a person’s joints. It can develop after a person has a viral infection.

A report from 2017 notes that viruses may be responsible for around 1% of people with acute arthritis.

People with viral arthritis generally have milder symptoms than those with rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis. Additionally, there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis, while viral arthritis is temporary.

Experts do not fully understand the exact process a virus undergoes to develop into viral arthritis. They believe it may occur in several ways, such as directly invading the joints by viral antigens.

Another possible cause is related to the body’s immune system. When pathogens, such as viruses, enter the body, the immune system sends antibodies to attack them.

When the antibodies find an antigen, they bind to its outer coating. This is known as the immune complex formation. Antibodies can bind to several antigens at once, helping clump the antigens together. Clumping allows other immune cells to destroy the antigens more quickly.

Immune complex formations can cause an inflammatory response. If they form inside a person’s joints, they may inflame them.

Many viruses can cause a person to develop viral arthritis. Most frequently, these include:

Other viruses with the potential to cause viral arthritis include:

A person may also develop viral arthritis if they have certain health conditions. A person taking immunosuppressive medications may be at risk if they acquire one of these viruses.

Symptoms of viral arthritis may vary depending on the virus causing the condition.

Viral arthritis tends to cause symmetric polyarticular arthritis. This means it affects joints on both sides of the body symmetrically. For example, it may affect both knees or both ankles. It is unusual for viral arthritis to affect only one joint.

Other possible symptoms of viral arthritis can include:

  • joint pain
  • swollen joints
  • a rash
  • fever
  • swollen lymph nodes

Viral arthritis is generally a mild condition that resolves after several weeks. Certain viruses, such as CHIKV, may cause a person to experience recurring bouts of viral arthritis.

A doctor needs to be able to differentiate between viral arthritis and other forms of arthritis. This is so a person can receive the correct treatment for their condition.

There is no specific test for viral arthritis. A doctor may request a blood test if a person develops joint pain alongside a viral infection. The doctor can check a person’s blood for:

  • inflammatory markers
  • autoantibodies, which are antibodies that attack a person’s cells
  • specific substances or antibodies related to the virus they have

A doctor may also perform a physical examination of the person. They may check for a rash or swollen lymph nodes.

Treatments for viral arthritis are generally used to reduce symptoms. A doctor may recommend a person use nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or paracetamol to reduce pain and swelling.

Antiviral medication may also help resolve a person’s joint symptoms. This may be the case if a person has HIV or hepatitis B or C. A doctor may prescribe this medication to treat the virus causing a person’s viral arthritis.

Maintaining healthy joints may help a person reduce their chances of developing certain forms of arthritis. The Arthritis Foundation lists the following tips as ways for a person to help keep their joints healthy:

  • avoiding wearing high heels
  • eating vegetables, such as kale, romaine and Bibb lettuces, broccoli, spinach, or parsley
  • getting up and moving around every 30 minutes when sitting for long periods
  • performing simple stretches throughout the day
  • avoiding smoking cigarettes
  • maintaining a moderate weight
  • taking up aquatic exercises
  • warming up before exercise
  • being careful when lifting heavy objects
  • increasing calcium intake using foods such as dairy, broccoli, figs, kale, or salmon
  • eating foods containing vitamin C, such as oranges
  • reducing caffeine intake if applicable
  • taking multivitamins containing folic acid, calcium, and vitamins K, C, and E
  • wearing comfortable, supportive shoes
  • avoiding stomping the feet, as well as exercises that involve pounding the feet, such as kickboxing and step aerobics
  • reducing stress

Viral arthritis is an uncommon form of arthritis. It can develop after an infection with certain viruses, such as hepatitis or rubella. Viral arthritis is generally milder than some other forms of arthritis. Symptoms usually clear up after several weeks.

There is no specific treatment for viral arthritis. A person can use certain medications to treat the symptoms of their condition. These may include NSAIDs or antiviral medications. A person can also use various methods to help keep their joints healthy. This may help prevent them from developing other arthritis conditions, such as osteoarthritis.