Reactive arthritis following COVID-19 current evidence, diagnosis, and management strategies

J Orthop Surg Res. 2023 Mar 15;18(1):205. doi: 10.1186/s13018-023-03651-6.


Background: Immune-mediated conditions associated to Corona Virus Disease-19 (COVID-19) have been reported, including vasculitis, antiphospholipid antibody syndrome, myositis, and lupus. Emerging studies have reported the potential occurrence of reactive arthritis in patients previously infected with COVID-19. This systematic review summarised the current evidence on the occurrence of reactive arthritis in patients previously infected by COVID-19.

Methods: This study was conducted according to the 2020 PRISMA guidelines. All the clinical investigations describing the occurrence of reactive arthritis following COVID-19 were accessed. In September 2022, the following databases were accessed: PubMed, Web of Science, Google Scholar, Embase. The generalities of the study were extracted: author, year and journal of publication, country of the main author, study design, sample size, mean age, number of women, main results of the study. The following data on COVID-19 severity and management were retrieved: type of treatment, hospitalization regimes (inpatient or outpatient), admission to the intensive care unit, need of mechanical ventilation, pharmacological management. The following data on reactive arthritis were collected: time elapsed between COVID-19 infection to the onset of reactive arthritis symptoms (days), pharmacological management, type of arthritis (mono- or bilateral, mono- or polyarticular), extra-articular manifestations, presence of tenosynovitis or enthesitis, synovial examination at microscopic polarised light, imaging (radiography, magnetic resonance, sonography), clinical examination, laboratory findings.

Results: Data from 27 case reports (54 patients) were retrieved, with a mean age of 49.8 ± 14.5 years. 54% (29 of 54 patients) were women. The mean time span between COVID-19 infection and the occurrence of reactive arthritis symptoms was 22.3 ± 10.7 days. Between studies diagnosis and management of reactive arthritis were heterogeneous. Symptoms resolved within few days in all studies considered. At last follow-up, all patients were minimally symptomatic or asymptomatic, and no additional therapy or attentions were required by any patient.

Conclusion: Poor evidence suggests that COVID-19 could target the musculoskeletal system causing reactive arthritis at its post infectious stage. COVID-19 can act as a causative agent or as a trigger for development of reactive arthritis even without presence of antibodies of rheumatological disorders. Treating physicians should have a high index of suspicion while treating post infectious COVID-19 patient with arthralgia.

Level of evidence: Level IV, systematic review.

Keywords: COVID-19; Immunity; Reactive arthritis.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antibodies
  • Arthritis, Reactive* / diagnosis
  • Arthritis, Reactive* / epidemiology
  • Arthritis, Reactive* / etiology
  • COVID-19 Testing
  • COVID-19* / complications
  • COVID-19* / diagnosis
  • COVID-19* / therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inpatients
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • SARS-CoV-2


  • Antibodies