Rheumatoid arthritis physical examination

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]; Associate Editor(s)-in-Chief: Manpreet Kaur, MD [2]


Patients with rheumatoid arthritis usually appear fatigued. On skin examination, rheumatoid nodules, erythema nodosum, atrophy of the digital skin, palmar erythema, and diffuse thinning of the skin may be found. If there is involvement of the eyes, scleritis and scleromalacia may be seen. On auscultation of lungs, decreased breath sounds on both sides and crackles may be observed. On palpation of the abdomen, hepatomegaly and splenomegaly is usually found when it is associated with Felty's syndrome. On examination of extremities, redness, and swelling of the affected joints, tenderness, pain on movement and decreased the range of movement is usually found.

Physical examination

Appearance of the Patient

  • Patients with rheumatoid arthritis usually appear fatigued.

Vital Signs




On Auscultation of lungs:

  • Decreased breath sounds on both sides.
  • Crackles may be present.



  • On inspection redness and swelling of the affected joints.
  • On palpation:
    • Tenderness
    • Pain on movement
    • Decreased range of movement


  1. Pham T, Gossec L, Fautrel B, Combe B, Flipo RM, Goupille P, Le Loët X, Mariette X, Puéchal X, Wendling D, Schaeverbeke T, Sibilia J, Sany J, Dougados M (May 2005). "Physical examination and laboratory tests in the management of patients with rheumatoid arthritis: development of recommendations for clinical practice based on published evidence and expert opinion". Joint Bone Spine. 72 (3): 222–8. doi:10.1016/j.jbspin.2004.10.010. PMID 15850993.
  2. Medina YF, Ruíz-Gaviria RE, Buitrago-Lopez A, Villota C (February 2018). "Physical articular examination in the activity of rheumatoid arthritis: a systematic review of the literature : Systematic review of the literature regarding physical examination in rheumatoid arthritis". Clin. Rheumatol. doi:10.1007/s10067-018-4015-4. PMID 29464524.

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