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What is Arthralgia?

By D. Jeffress
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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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.

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Discussion Comments

By bagley79 — On Dec 26, 2011

My husband is a candidate for knee replacement surgery because of arthritis. In one knee there is no cartilage left and is just bone on bone.

He works construction, so all the years of hard work have taken a toll on his body. He is still a few years from retirement, so the surgeon is hoping he can put it off as long as possible.

In the mean time, his treatment for arthritis is some prescription medication that is supposed to help with the inflammation.

He has also had steroid shots, but they don't seem to last very long for him.

I think arthralgia is something that affects almost everyone eventually. I remember all of my grandparents complaining of arthritis and rheumatism in their joints.

By honeybees — On Dec 26, 2011

The older I get, the more arthralgias I feel all over my body. Most of these pains are in areas where I have had a previous injury.

I must have been somewhat accident prone when I was a kid, because I have broken an arm, a leg and a foot - not all at the same time!

It is these areas where the pain and joint stiffness seems to settle. I am also pretty good at predicting rain, as this is when they feel the worse.

I also don't have nearly as much range of motion in the arm that I broke many years ago.

In talking with older people, it seems like this is something that is going to get worse, and not better as I age.

At this point, I haven't had to take any medication for it. If it gets to the point where it limits my activities, I would be willing to take something if it helped me stay active.

By Mykol — On Dec 25, 2011

I have found that over the counter pain relievers like Advil or Tylenol work well for mild arthritis conditions.

I have also had good results with hot packs for treatment for arthralgia from over exertion.

If I spend too much time outside gardening or doing yard work, I can really feel it in my joints later on that day.

On days that I have overdone it, I will take a pain reliever with a sleep aid, use a hot pack and usually feel much better in the morning.

By ddljohn — On Dec 24, 2011

@fify-- I think you should continue with your check-ups about your arthralgia. If you don't have symptoms of arthritis and the joint pain isn't accompanied by inflammation, doctors are not really able to diagnose it.

I had the same problem with my arm joints for years and it was finally linked to an immune system disorder that I was diagnosed with. I don't think all cases of undiagnosed arthralgia will be that serious but it's still something to keep an eye on.

And @burcidi is absolutely right about some medications causing arthralgia. Usually the side effects will list things like fatigue, joint pain and weakness. So take a look if you're on any medications right now. That might be the cause.

I've also gone through various pain relievers for the pain. I think anti-inflammatory prescriptive drugs give the best results. The over-the-counter pain-relievers have done nothing for me.

By burcidi — On Dec 23, 2011

@fify-- Of course. Arthralgia isn't a condition or disease, it's just a symptom. I'm sure that there is always an underlying cause for joint pain but it may not always be diagnosed.

I have poly-arthralgia which means pain in multiple joints (poly meaning more than one), because of a medication I'm taking. It's one of the side effects that disappears when I stop taking it.

So it doesn't have to be because of injury or arthritis, I think those are just the most common causes. I'm sure it can be caused by many other things though.

By fify — On Dec 23, 2011

Is it possible to have arthralgia without injury or arthritis?

I've been having chronic pain in my ankles for the past couple of years. I've gotten blood work done several times in this time period which showed no signs of arthritis. I've also not had any accident or injury prior to this.

My doctor has no idea what is causing the pain and sends me home with pain relievers and creams every time. I'm baffled about what to do.

Are arthralgia symptoms always linked to a specific cause or disease? Is it possible to develop chronic arthralgia without a known cause?

And what does polyarthralgia mean?

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