SARS-CoV-2 is widely known as a respiratory illness. But, researchers are still understanding the relationship between COVID and knee pain.
Some studies suggest this virus can worsen joint inflammation, thus causing pain. We’ll discuss this, as well as how to manage COVID-derived knee problems at home.
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COVID and knee joint pain
Typical symptoms of COVID are fairly similar to the flu. But joint pain patients may have increased discomfort. These include people with rheumatoid arthritis and knee osteoarthritis, for example.
This is because the virus can worsen joint inflammation. Researchers aren’t sure why this happens, though. It may be a flare-up of previously unnoticed arthritis, or bonafide virus-induced arthritis. (1)
Now, reactive arthritis is a common complication after a viral disease.
Reactive arthritis is joint pain and swelling that are caused by an infection. (2) It usually targets the knees and ankles and may start 1 to 4 weeks after contracting the disease.
For most people, symptoms disappear over time – according to the Mayo Clinic.
This type of arthritis may happen to some patients after a COVID infection.
In that case, the inflammation may appear approximately 1 week after the typical symptoms of the virus dissolve. It almost always affects the lower extremity – mostly the knees, and ankles. (2)
The duration of the knee joint and muscle pain is variable. For some, the pain is short-lived. But for others, it may last 60 to 90 days. (3)
The pain may be extremely severe, to the point of being unable to stand or walk, accompanied by visible redness and swelling of the affected joint. (2)
However, it tends to resolve fairly quickly with the right treatment. For example, a patient with COVID-induced knee arthritis recovered after 5 days, being able to return to his normal life shortly after. (2)
What about knee pain after the COVID-19 vaccination?
The most common side effect of vaccines is tenderness and pain at the site of injection. But muscle weakness and joint pain can also occur.
Reactive arthritis is an extremely rare side effect of vaccination, but it may happen. (4)
For example, a study reported reactive arthritis in the knee after covid vaccination in one patient. For this particular case, the joint was swollen and painful. But the symptoms disappeared after a single dose of steroid injection. (4)
The benefits of vaccination far outweigh the potential risks of side effects. But if you have a previous medical condition, discuss with your doctor the potential adverse symptoms you may have and how to prevent them. (4)
How to treat knee pain derived from COVID?
Some patients have a spontaneous recovery from joint problems after a viral infection. (2)
However, if you have reactive arthritis caused by COVID, the recommended treatment is (2):
- Taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
- Receiving glucocorticoid injections.
These two are usually enough to resolve symptoms and have a successful recovery. But other things you can do to treat knee problems caused by COVID include:
You can manage pain flare-ups at home with the RICE method. This includes:
- Resting the joint.
- Wrapping your knee to reduce swelling.
- Applying an ice pack over the knee joint to numb the pain.
- Elevating your legs on the couch.
Doing this a few times per day may be an effective pain management tool for joint and muscle pain.
Seek help from a physician
You should consult an expert if:
- Your knee pain hasn’t improved or is getting worse after 3 months.
- Breathlessness or fatigue is preventing you from being active.
- You develop new symptoms.
Is knee pain a sign of COVID?
Not really. Although the Coronavirus disease affects each person differently, it’s highly unlikely that knee pain alone was a sign of it.
Conclusion: COVID and knee pain
While covid is a respiratory illness, it can cause other symptoms like knee joint pain. This may be a common complication of viral infection known as reactive arthritis.
As the pandemic is still a couple of years old, limited clinical data is available. So, if you experience muscle and joint pain after COVID, try:
- At-home remedies, like anti-inflammatory medication.
- For severe cases, try going to physical therapy or seek help from a health care provider.
- Conway, Richard et al. “Inflammatory arthritis in patients with COVID-19.” Translational research: the journal of laboratory and clinical medicine vol. 232 (2021): 49-59
- Hønge, Bo Langhoff et al. “Reactive arthritis after COVID-19.” BMJ case reports vol. 14,3 e241375. 2 Mar. 2021
- “Meeting the challenge of long COVID.” Nature medicine vol. 26,12 (2020): 1803.
- An, Qi-Jun et al. “Reactive arthritis after COVID-19 vaccination.” Human vaccines & immunotherapeutics vol. 17,9 (2021): 2954-2956.