What Causes Joints Warm?

Conditions list medically reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA

From your knees to your fingers to your elbows, there are a number of movable joints in the body. Warm joints means one or more of your joints feels hot to the touch or warmer than your surrounding skin.   Joints that are warm are often... Read More

What Are Warm Joints?

From your knees to your fingers to your elbows, there are a number of movable joints in the body. Warm joints means one or more of your joints feels hot to the touch or warmer than your surrounding skin.  

Joints that are warm are often uncomfortable because the warmth is accompanied by swelling and redness. This and other symptoms can indicate a number of medical conditions, including arthritis and injury.

What Causes Warm Joints?

Different forms of arthritis are the most common causes of joints that feel warm. Two chief arthritis types exist: rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and osteoarthritis (OA).

RA is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks the cells in your joints. RA can cause:

  • joint swelling
  • joints to feel warm
  • pain
  • fatigue

The hands and wrists are commonly affected joints.     

OA also causes joints to be warm. Unlike RA, OA isn’t an autoimmune disorder. It’s a condition that happens when the cushioning material between the joints starts to break down. This causes the following symptoms in the joint or joints:

  • inflammation
  • pain
  • warmth
  • redness
  • tenderness 

Commonly affected areas include the hips, knees, and lower back.

Arthritis-related conditions aren’t the only factors that can cause your joints to be warm. Other conditions include:

  • bursitis: a condition that affects the fluid-filled bursa sacs in the knee
  • gout: a form of arthritis caused by a buildup of uric acid in the body
  • Lyme disease: a bacterial infection caused by a tick bite
  • rheumatic fever: an inflammatory reaction to the bacteria that causes strep throat
  • sickle cell disease: a group of disorders that affect the hemoglobin in red blood cells
  • tennis elbow: an overuse injury that affects the tendons that attach to your elbow joint

What Are the Symptoms of Warm Joints?

Joints that are warm will feel hotter to the touch than the skin around them. The joints may appear swollen and red. They may feel painful and uncomfortable.

When to Seek Medical Help

While joints that are warm rarely represent a medical emergency, they can indicate an infection that leads to a form of arthritis known as infectious or septic arthritis. 

Seek immediate medical attention if you experience the following:

  • broken areas of skin
  • chills
  • fast onset of joint pain
  • fever
  • intense pain
  • sudden inability to move your joints freely 

You should seek help when your joints are warm, especially if your symptoms are uncomfortable or don’t go away after a few days.  

How Are Warm Joints Diagnosed?

Your doctor will begin by taking a thorough health history and listening to your symptoms. Questions your doctor may ask include, “When did you first notice your symptoms?” and, “What makes your symptoms worse or better?”

Your doctor will physically examine your joints, watch you move the affected joint, and touch the joints to determine a possible source of pain and discomfort. 

Your doctor may order several blood tests if they suspect you may have RA. This includes testing your blood count for the presence of rheumatoid factor, an antibody that people with RA have. In some instances, your doctor may sample the synovial fluid around your joints. They’ll use the fluid to test for the presence of bacteria, crystals, or a virus that could cause your joints to be warm.

How Are Warm Joints Treated?

Once your doctor determines an underlying condition, they may recommend treatments. Many treatments for warm joints can take place at home. Examples include:

  • applying cold or heat packs, depending on your treatment goals. Cold packs can relieve inflammation while heat packs can improve flexibility.
  • eating a healthy diet to maintain a proper body weight, which reduces pressure to your joints
  • engaging in low-impact exercise, such as walking or swimming. Only start an exercise program after talking to your doctor.
  • taking over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, which relieve pain and reduce inflammation. Examples include acetaminophen and ibuprofen.
  • resting painful joints

Your doctor may prescribe medications if your pain is severe or due to a medically treatable condition. For example, doctors often treat gout with medications that reduce the amount of uric acid in your blood. This keeps uric acid crystals from building up and causing your joints to be warm.

In addition to medications, your doctor might recommend invasive treatments. This includes steroid injections to reduce inflammation. In some instances, you may require surgery to repair a damaged joint. 

Medically reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on February 26, 2015Written by Rachel Nall, RN, BSN


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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose. Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.