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Arthralgia is a general medical term used to describe pain in one or more body joints. Joint problems can be caused by many different factors, including acute injuries, overexertion, arthritis, and infectious diseases. Regardless of the cause, a person with arthralgia is likely to experience stiffness, tenderness, and a limited range of motion. Many types of joint pain can be treated with rest and over-the-counter medications, though severe arthralgia may require surgery and follow-up physical therapy to relieve symptoms.
Injury is the most common cause of this condition. Joint pain can be immediate, as with a direct blow or an awkward fall, or it can gradually worsen over time from repetitive overuse. Immediate damage to cartilage, tendons, and other types of tissue inside and around the joints leads to inflammation and swelling. Pain is especially intense if the joint is dislocated or connective tissue is torn. Chronic joint problems, such as bursitis and tendinitis, arise from overexerting joints; such conditions are very common in athletes and manual laborers.
Arthralgia can also be the result of an infection or an autoimmune disorder. Hepatitis, measles, the flu and many other illnesses can cause joints to become sore and stiff. Rheumatoid arthritis, a condition in which the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy joint tissue, results in severe, persistent joint pain. A combination of genetics and general wear-and-tear can lead to osteoarthritis, which causes cartilage and bone tissue to deteriorate over time. Since arthritis and infections can affect many joints at once, pain can significantly limit a person's ability to enjoy everyday activities.
A person who experiences mild arthralgia from an injury can usually treat the condition at home. Resting the joint for several days is important to allow the tissue to heal. Applying ice and taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs can help relieve pain and swelling and shorten healing time. Once a joint starts feeling better, an individual can engage in light stretching exercises to regain strength and flexibility.
An individual who experiences severe joint pain should visit his or her primary care doctor to receive a proper diagnosis and the appropriate treatment. A doctor can take x-rays and computerized tomography scans to view the extent of tissue damage. Depending on the cause of the problems, the physician may prescribe high-strength pain relievers, antibiotics, or arthritis medication. A patient may need to wear a brace or sling to immobilize the affected joint until it heals. In the case of significant tissue damage, the doctor may recommend surgery to repair or replace part of the joint.