Viral arthritis is a temporary form of arthritis that happens when you have a viral infection. Thanks to modern vaccines, viral arthritis is relatively rare in the United States.

When viral arthritis occurs, it causes symptoms that look a lot like rheumatoid arthritis, such as joint pain and swelling.

Most cases of viral arthritis resolve quickly and don’t have any permanent effects.

Your immune system is designed to attack any viruses circulating in your system. This is how your body fights off the infection and how you recover from a viral illness. However, sometimes viruses can invade your joints.

When viral particles get inside the connective tissue of your joints, your immune system will send antibodies to your joints and try to kill the viral particles. This will lead to pain and swelling in your joints, known as viral arthritis.

You can develop viral arthritis with any virus, but it is more common with certain infections. According to the National Library of Medicine, viral arthritis is most commonly linked to:

Symptoms of viral arthritis are similar to those of rheumatoid arthritis. The primary symptoms are pain and swelling in one or more of your joints. Symptoms come on suddenly and are the same in adults and children.

  • pain and stiffness that is worse in the morning
  • limited range of motion in an affected joint
  • symmetrical joint involvement, meaning the same joints are involved on both sides of your body, such as both knees, both shoulders, both wrists, or both hips
  • muscle aches
  • fever
  • pain in five or more joints

Other symptoms can vary depending on the virus causing your viral arthritis. Some people might develop a rash similar to the rash seen in rheumatic diseases. People who have an arthritic condition, such as rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis, might see their symptoms increase in severity.

How long does viral arthritis usually last?

Viral arthritis usually resolves quickly. In most cases, viral arthritis symptoms will clear up about 1 or 2 weeks after the viral infection passes. In rare cases, additional physical therapy or treatment is needed to relieve symptoms.

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It can be difficult to diagnose viral arthritis because most of the symptoms are common with many other illnesses. Additionally, viral infections can cause a wide range of symptoms, ranging from mild to severe.

Your doctor might suspect viral arthritis if you appear to have a viral infection and have pain in multiple joints on both sides of your body.

Rheumatology Advisor says your doctor will do tests to confirm a diagnosis. A physical examination can test for swollen joints, and blood tests can look for viruses. You might also have tests such as a rheumatoid factor test and an erythrocyte sedimentation rate to rule out other types of arthritis.

The best way to treat viral arthritis is to treat the viral infection that is causing it. Your treatment will focus on relieving your symptoms and helping your body respond to the viral infection. You might have additional treatment to help restore your joint function in rare cases.

Treatments might include:

  • Pain relieving medications. Your doctor might recommend or prescribe medications to relieve pain and take down the swelling. These could include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or analgesics such as acetaminophen.
  • Ice and heat packs to reduce pain. Applying ice can reduce swelling, and applying heat can reduce stiffness.
  • Fluid aspiration. Your doctor can remove some of the fluid in your joints if your pain is severe.
  • Antiviral medications. Antiviral medications can help your immune system fight the viral infection that is causing viral arthritis.
  • Physical therapy. In most cases, viral arthritis symptoms will resolve quickly. Physical therapy can help if your symptoms linger or if you need assistance regaining joint function.

Eating tips after recovering from viral arthritis

Most people with viral arthritis recover quickly. However, it can be a good idea to eat foods that are beneficial for your joints after recovering from viral arthritis. This can lower the overall inflammation in your body and in your joints. Make sure to talk with your doctor before changing your diet, though.

Diet tips after viral arthritis include:

  • Limit your sugar intake. Sugar can increase inflammation in your body. Check labels for added sugar and avoid it when you can.
  • Limit saturated fats. Saturated fats include red meats and full fat dairy products. They can trigger inflammation, so it’s best to eat them sparingly.
  • Choose whole grains and dark breads. Foods like white rice, white bread, and many desserts are also sources of sugar. Try to reach for brown rice, whole grain breads, rye breads, and whole wheat pastas.
  • Eat more fish and nuts. Fish, nuts, and flaxseeds are amazing sources of omega-3 fatty acids. This healthy fat source is known to help lower inflammation and joint pain.
  • Add some vitamin D. Vitamin D is found in foods such as eggs, salmon, orange juice, and milk. Studies have shown vitamin D levels to be connected to the risk of arthritis. Your body also naturally produces vitamin D when exposed to sunlight.

The outlook for viral arthritis is good. In nearly all cases, viral arthritis resolves quickly. Often, no additional treatment is needed. When treatment is required, it is often simply to manage pain and swelling until it has runs its course.

It’s very rare for viral arthritis to last more than 1 or 2 weeks longer than the viral infection that caused it.

Living with arthritis pain

It’s good to have support when you’re managing a painful condition such as arthritis. Fortunately, there are some great resources to turn to for support. You can check out:

  • Live Yes! Connect Groups. These support groups from the Arthritis Foundation help you make online connections with other people living with arthritis.
  • Daily Strength. This large online support group for people with rheumatoid arthritis is a great place for connection and support.
  • PainAction. You can use PainAction to find local support groups and other resources for arthritis pain.
  • RheumatoidArthritis.net. You can post on these forums to talk with other people living with arthritis to share stories, tips, and more.
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Viral arthritis is a type of arthritis pain and swelling that is caused by a viral infection. This type of arthritis used to be a lot more common. Today, thanks to vaccines, viral arthritis is relatively rare in the United States.

When it does occur, it causes symptoms similar to those of rheumatoid arthritis, such as joint pain and swelling. Usually, pain occurs in at least five joints. Viral arthritis generally resolves quickly and rarely causes lasting symptoms. Physical therapy can help if there is any lingering pain or stiffness.