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COVID-19 and arthritis

Written by Ada’s Medical Knowledge Team

Updated on


  • Studies show that COVID-19 can be linked to reactive arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriatic arthritis. 
  • Arthritis after COVID-19 often causes pain, stiffness, and swelling of the joints.
  • In some cases, COVID-19 vaccination may cause arthritis as well.

COVID-19 arthritis is being reported by people suffering from painful joints after their infection with the coronavirus. In this article, you'll be able to get a better understanding of why this happens, how long the arthritis may last, and what can be done about it.

To understand the link between COVID and arthritis, it’s important to have a clear understanding of what arthritis is. Arthritis is defined as the inflammation of one or several joints, usually combined with pain, stiffness, and swelling.1

There are several types of arthritis, which may have different causes. When you get arthritis after COVID, it’s usually reactive arthritis, which means that the inflammation of the joints is triggered by an infection happening in another part of the body. This happens as the body’s immune system gets activated when there's an ongoing infection. The activation of the immune system is a normal and necessary reaction in order to fight off the infection, but sometimes the immune system overreacts and starts attacking healthy tissue as well, such as the tissues of the joints. Reactive arthritis is usually caused by a sexually transmitted or gastrointestinal infection, although it can also happen after viral infections such as an infection with the coronavirus.2 3

Another type of arthritis after COVID-19 is rheumatoid arthritis, which is a condition in which the joints get inflamed because the immune system mistakenly attacks them. When this happens, the tissue of the joints may get damaged, which can cause long-lasting pain, difficulty keeping your balance, and deformations. Rheumatoid arthritis often happens in several joints at the same time.4

Psoriatic arthritis and COVID-19 also seem to be linked. Psoriatic arthritis is similar to rheumatoid arthritis, as it's also caused by the immune system mistakenly attacking healthy tissue. It can cause painful joints, swelling, and stiffness. Psoriatic arthritis often develops in people who’ve had psoriasis for many years. This is a skin condition that causes patches of skin to develop white, silvery scales.5

The link between COVID-19 and arthritis is still being researched, but scientists believe that post-COVID arthritis is caused by the reaction of the immune system to the coronavirus. The reaction of the immune system to the virus may cause a higher level of interleukins circulating in the blood, which are cells that play an important part in the immune response. Studies found that high levels of a certain type of interleukin, called IL-17, can cause joint inflammation and the destruction of cartilage, the tissue protecting your joints. This increase in IL-17 can be noticed in both people who have had COVID-19 and in people with psoriatic arthritis.3 

There have also been reports of inflammatory arthritis after a COVID-19 vaccine. This can happen to people who already had arthritis which was under control prior to the COVID vaccination. Studies have also shown that COVID-19 vaccination can also trigger a sudden onset of arthritis in people who haven’t experienced this condition before.6

What are common post-COVID arthritis symptoms?

The symptoms of post-COVID arthritis can vary but mainly include: 3

  • Joint pain
  • Stiffness and limited movement of the joints
  • Swelling

The symptoms of reactive arthritis after COVID-19 can affect any joint of the body, but usually, the joints of the legs are affected. These symptoms can also be combined with any of the other symptoms of long COVID

How long does reactive arthritis last after COVID?

Some people report a sudden onset of arthritis after COVID within a few days of being infected with the coronavirus, while others find that arthritis appears about a month after the infection. This is about the same period as when reactive arthritis happens due to another cause, such as a sexually transmitted or gastrointestinal condition. Most cases of reactive arthritis after COVID clear up within a few days, although in some cases, it may take longer.3

How can COVID-19 arthritis be treated?

COVID-19 arthritis is usually temporary. The symptoms of the condition can be relieved with painkillers such as ibuprofen. In some cases, your physician may also prescribe other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or other anti-inflammatory drugs, such as prednisolone, to treat the inflammation of the affected joints.2 7

Wrapping up

Arthritis after COVID-19 is possible, as the immune system gets triggered and overreacts due to the coronavirus infection. Symptoms such as joint pain, swelling, and stiffness usually only last a few days to a few weeks. Your healthcare provider may prescribe drugs to reduce joint inflammation.


Q: Can COVID-19 cause arthritis? 
A: COVID-19 can cause a number of symptoms in the muscles and the joints, including arthritis.  This is also referred to as reactive or viral arthritis after COVID. 

Q: How does COVID affect arthritis? 
A: COVID-19 can cause arthritis due to an overreaction of the immune system to the virus, causing it to attack the healthy tissue of the joints as well. 

Q: Can COVID cause long-term joint pain?
A: Arthritis after COVID usually goes away within a few days, although some people may require treatment and take a bit longer to feel better again. In very rare cases, the joint pain can be long-lasting. 

Q: What is reactive arthritis with COVID? 
A: Reactive arthritis means that there's an inflammation of one or several joints in the body which is caused by an infection elsewhere in the body. This is usually caused by a sexually transmitted or gastrointestinal infection, but it can also be caused by an infection with the coronavirus.