Reactive arthritis is chronic inflammatory arthritis categorised by swelling and joint pain, caused by an infection in another part of the body such as genitals, intestines, or urinary tract. In most cases, reactive arthritis targets the knees and larger joints of ankles and feet and sometimes the inflammation can also affect the eyes, skin and urethra. It is thought to be an autoimmune disease of the spondyloarthritis group. Also Read: World Arthritis Day: Simple And Effective Tips To Manage Joint Pain

It was previously known as Reiter’s Syndrome, which is a triad of arthritis, eye inflammation and urinary tract inflammation. Contacting with bacteria and resulting infection can trigger this condition. The disorder was rare previously and sexually active men in the age group 20-40 years develop reactive arthritis more often than women.
reactive arthritis

The exact cause of this condition is still not clear, but studies suggest that it is caused due to genetic predisposition and 75% of patients with this have tested positive for the genetic marker HLA-B27. Reactive arthritis develops in reaction to an infection in the body caused by several bacteria which include: Chlamydia, Salmonella, Shigella, Campylobacter and Clostridium difficile. Also Read: Chlamydia – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Though it is not contagious, the bacteria that cause it can be transmitted sexually or via contaminated food. Moreover, only a few people who are exposed to bacteria develop reactive arthritis.


The signs and symptoms of reactive arthritis develop one to four weeks after contracting an infection which includes:

  • Severe pain and stiffness in the knees, ankles and feet.
  • Eye inflammation (conjunctivitis)
  • Increased frequency and irritation during urination due to inflammation of the cervix or prostate gland.
  • Inflammation in the soft tissues of the muscles, tendons and ligaments.
  • Swelling in fingers and toes.
  • Intense low back pain which worsens at night or in the morning.

Diagnosis And Treatment

The doctors generally perform a complete physical examination to evaluate any signs of inflammation such as swelling, warmth and tenderness. They also observe the mobility in the affected spine and joints and look out for any eye infections and skin rashes. Furthermore, doctors may suggest the patient do certain blood work, joint fluid tests and X-rays of the low back, pelvis and joints to determine the exact nature of reactive arthritis and rule out other types of arthritis.

The main aim of treatment is to manage the symptoms and treat the infection-causing agent. Antibiotics are prescribed to treat the underlying bacterial infection. In addition, Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are prescribed to ease pain and inflammation in the joints. Corticosteroids injection are injected into affected regions to lessen inflammation and help the patients resume normal activity.

 Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is a gradual treatment process that helps patients to stimulate joint health. The main objective of physical therapy is to come back to a healthy range of motion without pain. Exercises keep the joints flexible and help you attain a normal range of motion. The physiotherapist suggests certain exercises for strengthening the muscles around the affected joints which enhance the joint’s function. Range-of-motion exercises also help the patients to increase joints flexibility and lessen stiffness.

The prognosis of treatment for patients suffering from reactive arthritis is positive and most individuals get completely recovered. However, it may take three to four months and sometimes even up to a year for some cases. About 20-50% of people with reactive arthritis may show a relapse of symptoms after initial treatment.