What Is Arthritis?


Arthritis is the inflammation (or stress) of one or more joints. It usually causes joint pain, swelling, stiffness and limited movement.

There are more than 150 different types of arthritis. The cause of some forms is unknown, but arthritis can also be the result of disease, infection, genetic defect, injury, or overuse.

Arthritis affects more than 50 million adults in the United States and is the nation’s most common cause of disability. There is no known cure, but proper early treatment can help prevent permanent joint damage.

Arthritis-related joint symptoms may include:

  • Pain
  • Stiffness, especially in the morning
  • Inflammation
  • Reduced ability to move the joint
  • Redness and warmth of the skin around a joint

These symptoms can affect joints throughout the body, including the:


Arthritis may also cause damage to joint cartilage and surrounding structures. This type of damage can lead to weakness of the joint and can affect many basic daily tasks, such as walking, climbing stairs, using a computer keyboard and, even, brushing your teeth.

Diagnosis of Arthritis

If you think you may have arthritis, your health care team will ask questions about your medical history, then perform a physical exam.

If you have arthritis, the physical exam may reveal:

  • Fluid around a joint
  • Warm, red, tender joints
  • Difficulty moving a joint (called "limited range of motion")
  • Your health care team may also perform blood tests and joint x-rays to check for infection and other causes of arthritis. Your doctor may also remove a sample of joint fluid with a needle and send it to a lab to be checked.

    Treatment at Penn

    Though there is no known cure for arthritis, proper early diagnosis and creation of a personalized treatment plan can help you prevent permanent joint damage. Arthritis treatment options include lifestyle changes, medication and even surgery for severely damaged joints. The goal of all these treatments is to reduce pain, improve mobility, and prevent further joint damage.

    Penn Programs & Services for Arthritis

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    Foot and Ankle

    Penn orthopaedic foot and ankle specialists offer comprehensive surgical and non-surgical options to treat every type of foot and ankle condition.

    man holding hand in pain
    Hand and Wrist

    Penn Medicine’s orthopedic hand and wrist surgeons, in collaboration with plastic surgeons, use the most advanced and proven techniques to improve the lives of patients suffering from hand and wrist pain.

    Knee Pain

    From your first appointment through rehabilitation, our orthopaedic team is here to serve your needs, developing a personalized treatment plan specifically for you and your knee pain.

    Musculoskeletal Medicine

    The highly skilled physiatrists of Penn Medicine’s Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation department treat musculoskeletal disorders.

    Psoriatic Arthritis and the Spondyloarthropathies Program

    Penn Rheumatology provides advanced diagnosis and treatment for psoriatic arthritis (PsA) and other arthritis-types called the spondyloarthropathies.

    Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

    Penn Rheumatology diagnoses and treats rheumatoid arthritis, a disease that causes inflammation of the joints and surrounding tissue.

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