Arthralgia Causes

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

There are several causes of joint pain that range from injuries, infections, inflammation to severe degenerative systemic or whole body disorders.

Some of the causes may be classified as:-

  1. Those leading to single joint pain or monoarticular pain
  2. Those leading to more than one joint pain or polyarticular pain
  3. Those leading to musculoskeletal emergencies mandating immediate attention
  4. Back pain
  5. Non-specific arthralgias or muscle pains

Causes of single joint affliction or pain

Pain in and around a single joint are commonly seen in the knees or shoulders. If the pain is in the joint there is tenderness and pain at the end of the maximum range of the movement in any direction. The range of movement thus is significantly reduced.

The pain may also involve structures around the joint. The joint affliction may be inflammatory or mechanical.

Inflammatory features include warmth, redness, swelling, pain and stiffness after prolonged inactivity in the joint. There is presence of morning stiffness as well.

Mechanical degeneration of a single joint is manifested by pain during activity, improvement with rest, locking or joint giving way during activity and absence of swelling, warmth and redness of the joint.

Some causes of single joint affliction include:-

  • Joint injuries
  • Joint infections or collection of pus in a joint usually following injuries and surgical complications
  • Rotator cuff syndrome
  • De Quervains tenosynovitis
  • Olecranon bursitis
  • Prepatellar, patella, anserine bursitis
  • Trochanteric bursitis
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Achilles tendonitis

Causes of multiple joint affliction or pain

There are several non-inflammatory and inflammatory causes that may affect multiple joints. Common non-inflammatory conditions include osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia.

Other inflammatory causes include rheumatoid arthritis, reactive arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, gout, enteropathic arthropathy, polymyalgia rheumatic, systemic lupus erythematoses (SLE), etc.

Causes leading to musculoskeletal emergencies mandating immediate attention

The commonest emergencies include infections such as septic arthritis and osteomyelitis, injuries to the joint including fractures, dislocations, damage to the surrounding blood vessels and nerves due to injuries or cancers.

It is usually characterized by single affected joints with severe locking and pain that makes movement impossible. In case of infections there may be accompanying fever as well.

Causes of back pain

There are several causes that affect the back in general or the lower back particularly. It is the commonest musculoskeletal symptom by the population.

The condition may be transient and resolve in a few days or may be long standing with occasional flare-ups.

Apart from pain there may be affliction of the nerves as well leading to tingling, numbness in the lower limbs.

Some of the causes include repetitive strain injury, whiplash injury, sciatica, osteoporosis leading to vertebral fractures, slipped or bulging disc between two vertebral bodies etc.

Non-specific muscle pain and arthralgias

These may range from mild to severe leading to severe muscle pain, multiple areas of non specific pain, interference with sleep and performance, and commonly, chronic fatigue and depression. One of the common causes of this condition is fibromyalgia.

Reviewed by , BA Hons (Cantab)

Further Reading

Last Updated: May 26, 2013

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