What Is Lupus And How Does It Affect The Joints?


More common in women than men, lupus is a rare disorder known to cause chronic joint pain. An early diagnosis of lupus can mean early treatment. Controlling the symptoms of lupus can help avoid joint pain and long-term damage to your joints. 

People should be aware of how it can affect their joints so that they can seek medical help if they develop symptoms.

Let’s learn what lupus is, the symptoms this condition causes, and how it affects the joints.

What is lupus?

It is a chronic, progressive condition that occurs due to inflammation in the skin, joints, and other organs and tissues in the body. [1]

It is an autoimmune disorder. It occurs when the immune system that protects us against infections and diseases attacks healthy cells and tissues.

It is the result of the immunological dysfunctions caused by the failure of the immune cells to recognize the body’s own cells. [2]

There are two main types of lupus: Discoid lupus and SLE (systemic lupus erythematosus).

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Discoid lupus affects only the skin resulting in redness and rashes. The symptoms of SLE, on the other hand, are widespread and involve other organs of the body, especially the joints and kidneys. [3]

Let us have a look at the symptoms of lupus and how it affects the joints. 

What are the symptoms of lupus?

The most common symptom that indicates joint involvement is joint pain, especially in the hands and feet. The pain often shifts from one joint to another. It can also cause stiffness and swelling in the joints.

Though it is unlikely to cause deformities or permanent damage, it may severely restrict a joint’s range of motion. In some cases, people with it develop joint hypermobility causing the joints to become very flexible.

This can worsen joint pain and increase the risk of a fall. It may also lead to dislocation, the joint may pop out of place due to increased flexibility.

it can involve other organs besides the joints. Due to the involvement of other organs it symptoms include: 

  • Skin rashes that often become noticeable after exposure to the sun
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Hair loss
  • Recurrent fever
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck, groin, armpits, and under the chin
  • Depression

What are the causes and risk factors of lupus?

It is more common in women than in men. It can affect young women. This condition is comparatively rare in children below the age of 5.

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It is more common in women of Chinese, African, and Caribbean origins. The symptoms of lupus tend to be more intense in women of Afro-Caribbean origin. [4]

The exact causes of lupus are not known. It is believed to occur due to the complex interplay between hormonal, genetic, and environmental factors. 

Exposure to strong sunlight and smoking cigarettes can increase the risk of developing it. Hormonal changes occurring during puberty can also increase the risk of this condition. 

Some medications may cause drug-induced it. However, the symptoms often resolve spontaneously once the medications are stopped. 

Patients who have a parent or sibling suffering from lupus or any other autoimmune disorder are more likely to develop this condition. 

How does lupus affect the joints?

Lupus arthritis

Patients with it may develop symptoms of arthritis due to the damage to the joints. Joint swelling, due to the pro-inflammatory substances released by the immune cells, can cause joint damage. 

Patients may develop stiffness, swelling, warmth, and tenderness in the affected joints. The joints commonly affected due to lupus are the ones farthest from the center of the body such as the wrists, elbows, fingers, ankles, knees, and toes. It can affect multiple joints usually on both sides of the body.

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Inflammatory changes in the joints caused due to lupus often progress slowly over several months. Since the immune cells are unable to identify the joints as the body’s own tissues, the inflammation becomes worse over a period of time.

If not treated properly, joint pain can result in severe restriction of movements. [5]

Lupus myositis

Some patients with lupus may develop myositis due to muscle inflammation. This can cause weakness, stiffness, and loss of strength. These symptoms may reduce the ability to maintain balance and increase the risk of a fall and fractures. 

It myositis usually affects the muscles of the neck, pelvis, shoulders, thighs, and upper arms. The early symptoms of myositis include difficulty in getting up from a chair or climbing stairs.

As the muscle damage worsens, people may experience difficulty in lifting even light objects, combing their hair, raising their head, and turning in bed.

Bursitis and Tendonitis  

A tendon is made of tough fibers forming a strong rope-like structure that attaches a muscle to the bone. A bursa is a tiny, fluid-filled sac found near a joint. It allows bones, tendons, and muscles to move easily. [6] [7

It can make the joints weaker and affect their range of motion by causing inflammation of the tendons and bursae

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Inflammation of the tendons and bursae can cause tendonitis and bursitis, respectively, due to which the joint functions are affected. Bursitis can; make joint pain worse, increase the risk of tendon rupture, and reduce the ability to perform routine activities. [8]

Carpal tunnel syndrome

The incidence of carpal tunnel syndrome is higher in women who have it. Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs due to pressure on the nerve that passes through the carpal tunnel in the wrist. [9] [10]

It is characterized by pain, tingling, and numbness in the fingers. Inflammation of the tissues in the wrist joint due to lupus can cause swelling, increasing the pressure on the nerves passing through the tunnel.

The symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome can increase gradually and cause considerable immobility of the affected wrist and hand. [11] [12]


Joint pain, along with stiffness and reduced mobility are the common symptoms of lupus arthritis. People who suffer from chronic progressive joint pain can seek medical help to detect or rule out lupus.

Early detection of this illness can help them receive appropriate treatment and slow down the progress of the disease. 


  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19591780/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3351863/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1459118/
  4. https://www.versusarthritis.org/about-arthritis/conditions/lupus-sle/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3391953/
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18785311
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1007087/
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1001497/
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3955778/
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4487499/
  11. https://www.lupus.org/resources/how-lupus-affects-the-muscles-tendons-and-joints
  12. https://www.hss.edu/conditions_joint-pain-lupus-really-arthritis.asp

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