Arthralgia

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What is arthralgia?

Arthralgia is pain in one or more of your joints. The pain may be described as sharp, dull, stabbing, burning or throbbing, and may range in intensity from mild to severe. There are many causes of arthralgia, including injury, infection, arthritis, and other ailments. The most common cause is arthritis, which is inflammation of the joints. There are many different types of arthritis.

Treatment for arthralgia will vary depending on the joint that is affected, the severity of the pain, and the underlying cause. Treatment will address the underlying cause and alleviate or manage symptoms. Minor arthralgia can be treated at home with over-the-counter medications that reduce pain and swelling, or by icing, taking warm baths, or stretching.

More severe cases of arthralgia may benefit from medical procedures, such as steroid injections, joint aspiration, or physical therapy.

Although life-threatening complications of arthralgia are rare, seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have joint pain due to injuries that involve profuse bleeding or tissue damage, severe joint pain, or high fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit).

Seek prompt medical care if you are being treated for arthralgia but mild symptoms recur or are persistent.

What are the symptoms of arthralgia?

The primary symptom of arthralgia is joint pain. The pain may be described as sharp, dull, stabbing, burning or throbbing. It may range in intensity from mild to severe. The joint pain may appear suddenly or develop and worsen over time.

Common symptoms of arthralgia

You may experience arthralgia symptoms daily or just once in a while. Any of these arthralgia symptoms can be severe:

  • Burning feeling
  • Itching feeling
  • Numbness
  • Pain or tenderness
  • Redness, warmth or swelling
  • Reduced mobility (range of motion of the joints)
  • Stiffness
  • Tingling or other unusual sensations

Symptoms that might indicate a serious condition

In some cases, arthralgia can be a serious condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these serious symptoms including:

  • Bone protruding from the skin
  • Extensive bleeding
  • Fever not associated with flu symptoms
  • Severe joint pain
  • Sudden development of joint deformity

What causes arthralgia?

There are many causes of arthralgia. Arthralgia with sudden joint pain may be caused by an injury, while arthralgia that develops and worsens over time may be due to an underlying disease or disorder. The most common cause of arthralgia is arthritis, which is inflammation of the joints.

Arthritic causes of arthralgia

Inflammation due to arthritis can cause joint pain. Examples of arthritic causes of arthralgia include:

  • Gout (type of arthritis caused by a buildup of uric acid in the joints)
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Reiter’s syndrome (form of arthritis)
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (chronic autoimmune disease characterized by joint inflammation)
  • Septic arthritis (infectious arthritis)

Traumatic causes of arthralgia

A number of common injuries can cause joint pain. These injuries include:

  • Broken bones
  • Dislocation of bones
  • Herniated disc (ruptured or slipped disc)
  • Injury caused by overuse of a joint
  • Loose fragments of bone or cartilage within joint space
  • Nerve entrapment or compression (pinched nerve)
  • Repetitive motion disorders
  • Sprains and strains
  • Stress fractures
  • Tendon rupture

Infectious causes of arthralgia

A number of infectious diseases can cause arthralgia. These diseases include:

  • Haemophilus (bacterial infection, more common in children)
  • Hepatitis
  • Influenza (flu)
  • Measles (contagious viral infection also known as rubeola)
  • Mononucleosis (viral infection)
  • Mumps (viral infection of the salivary glands in the neck)
  • Neisseria gonococcus (bacterial infection more common in adolescents and young adults)
  • Salmonella (bacterial infection more common in sickle cell patients)
  • Staph aureus (bacterial infection following trauma or surgery)

Other causes of arthralgia

Other causes of arthralgia include:

  • Bursitis (inflammation of a bursa sac that cushions a joint)
  • Leukemia (cancer of the blood or bone marrow)
  • Medication side effects or allergic reaction to medication
  • Osteomyelitis (bone infection)
  • Spondylitis (infection or inflammation of the spinal joints)
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (disorder in which the body attacks its own healthy cells and tissues)
  • Tendinitis
  • Tumors of the bone, joints, or soft tissues

What are the risk factors for arthralgia?

A number of factors increase the risk of developing arthralgia. Not all people with risk factors will get arthralgia. Risk factors for arthralgia include:

  • Advanced age
  • Obesity
  • Participation in repetitive activities that put pressure on the joint
  • Previous joint injury or surgery

How is arthralgia treated?

Treatment for arthralgia begins with seeking medical care from your health care provider. Treatment will vary depending on the joint that is affected, the severity of the pain, and the underlying cause. Treatment will address the underlying cause and will aim to alleviate or manage symptoms.

Minor arthralgia may be managed through a home care plan recommended by your heath care provider. Depending on the underlying cause, home care for arthralgia may include icing the joint or taking warm baths. Your health care provider may recommend that you limit activity or perform stretching exercises. If appropriate, over-the-counter medications may be used to reduce pain and swelling.

In some cases, physical therapy may be beneficial. Steroid injections are a common treatment for joint inflammation. If needed, fluid may be removed from the affected joint in a procedure called joint aspiration (arthrocentesis). Arthralgia due to a broken bone may require surgery or casting.

Arthralgia due to an infection in the joint may require surgery to clean out the infection, followed by antibiotics.

Complementary treatments

Some complementary treatments may help some people to better deal with arthralgia. These treatments, sometimes referred to as alternative therapies, are used in conjunction with traditional medical treatments. Complementary treatments are not meant to substitute for traditional medical care. Be sure to notify your doctor if you are consuming nutritional supplements or homeopathic (nonprescription) remedies as they may interact with the prescribed medical therapy.

Complementary treatments may include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Massage therapy
  • Nutritional dietary supplements, herbal remedies, tea beverages, and similar products
  • Yoga

What are the potential complications of arthralgia?

Complications of untreated arthralgia can be serious. You can help minimize your risk of serious complications by following the treatment plan you and your health care professional design specifically for you. Complications of arthralgia include:

  • Amputation
  • Disability
  • Inability to perform daily tasks
  • Serious infections and gangrene
  • Severe discomfort or pain
  • Spread of cancer
  • Spread of infection
  • Visible deformity of the affected joint
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 9
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Joint pain. MedlinePlus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003261.htm
  2. Arthritis. PubMed Health, a service of the NLM from the NIH. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002223/
  3. Kahan S, Miller R, Smith EG (Eds.). In A Page Signs & Symptoms, 2d ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams & Williams, 2009
  4. Domino FJ (Ed.) Five Minute Clinical Consult. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2013
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