Arthralgia

1 What is arthralgia?

In the most literal sense, arthralgia refers to any sort of joint pain. The word “arthralgia” came into being by combining the Greek words “arthro,” meaning “joint,” and “algos,” meaning “pain”. More often than not, arthralgia is a symptom of an infection, injury, or illness such as arthritis, or any consequent allergic reaction to a specific medication. However, according to the chief medical professionals’ associations, the term “arthralgia” should be generalized for all joint pain conditions and should only be used in the case of non-inflammatory joint pain; the term “arthritis” is deemed more appropriate for inflammatory joint pain. Despite this universal convention, many times inflammatory joint pains are still referred to as arthralgia. 

2 Symptoms of arthralgia

Arthralgia causes non-inflammatory joint pain. A person can experience this pain in just one area or joint, or it may affect multiple joints in the body. The joint pain can range from mild to severe and can come and go for a few minutes a day, or be constant throughout the day and night. This joint stiffness or pain frequently worsens after long periods of inactivity, such as during sleep, which makes it more prominent after waking up. However, it can improve with a little movement. Treatment for arthralgia could possibly worsen the existing joint pain or even cause new pains in other areas. The physiology of arthralgia is unclear and thus may include numerous mechanisms depending on the individual and the drug intake. This is why the time course and symptoms of arthralgia are highly variable in different individuals.

The most common areas where people experience joint pain caused by arthralgia are the fingers, wrists, back, shoulders, hip bones, pelvic bones, feet, knees, and arms. All these pains can make it difficult for a person to perform their normal daily activities as well as interrupt their sleep and degrade their quality of life, resulting in a worse day-to-day well-being.

The major symptom of arthralgia is joint pain, which can be sharp, dull, throbbing, burning, or stabbing. The severity and intensity of the pain can be mild or brutal, occurring suddenly or developing slowly. Symptoms of arthralgia may occur daily or only appear once in a while.

The most common symptoms associated with arthralgia include a tingling feeling, reduced mobility causing a lower range of motion of joints, swelling or warm feeling, redness, tenderness or pain, joint stiffness and aches, pain in the muscles, numbness, itchy feeling, burning sensation, or any other unusual feelings.

There are other serious symptoms that might indicate a severe health issue requiring immediate medical attention. Some of these include:

  • Extensive bleeding in the joints
  • Bone protruding from the joint
  • Severe joint pain and stiffness
  • Presence of fever not associated with flu
  • A sudden deformity developed in the joint 

3 Causes

Anyone can experience joint pain due to a variety of reasons, but the most common reasons attributed to arthralgia are:

  • Injury in the joints
  • Infection in the joints
  • Tricky immune disorders
  • Allergic reaction to medication
  • Degenerative diseases

However, the causes of arthralgia are more varied and can be triggered by several things such as vaccinations or by destructive and degenerative processes such as osteoarthritis, sport injuries, or inflammation of the tissues surrounding the joints experiencing pain, as occurs with bursitis.

The most complex causes have been classified by medical professionals into the following categories:

  • The ones leading to monoarticular (single joint) pain
  • The ones leading to polyarticular (multiple joint) pain
  • The ones leading to musculoskeletal issues requiring immediate attention
  • The ones causing back pain
  • The ones causing muscle pain (non-specific arthralgia)

The causes of monoarticular pain include collection of pus in the joint, Achilles Tendonitis, Plantar Fasciitis, rotator cuff syndrome, Olecranon bursitis, or joint injuries; those of polyarticular pain include fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), reactive arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, enteropathic arthropathy, gout, polymyalgia rheumatica, etc.; those of musculoskeletal emergencies include septic arthritis, joint fractures, osteomyelitis, dislocation of the joints, or surrounding nerve/blood vessel damage owing to injuries or cancers; those of back pain include repetitive strain injury, osteoporosis leading to vertebral fractures, whiplash injury, a slipped or bulging disc between two vertebral bodies, sciatica, etc. There are also other mild and severe causes leading to muscular pain, interference with performance and sleep, multiple areas of non-specific pain, and, commonly, chronic depression and fatigue.

4 Making a diagnosis

Medical diagnosis of arthralgia generally involves a patient interview concerning their symptoms and daily routine in order to find out the cause of the condition. After the personal interview, the doctor then performs a physical examination.

The patient is asked certain questions directly intended to narrow down and scrutinize the number of potential causes of the underlying condition. For instance, the patient may be asked about certain medical conditions such as rashes, light sensitivity, dry mouth, or any history of seizures. These inquiries will then guide the physician toward the appropriate lab tests and medical exams.

5 Arthralgia treatment

Treatment requires knowledge of the underlying cause of the disease, as this will help the doctor direct their choice of medication.

Among the treatments for arthralgia is joint replacement surgery, which is an option for severely-damaged joints. Medications like antibiotics are also helpful in the case of an infection causing joint pain, and immunosuppressants work well in the case of immune system dysfunction. Discontinuing medication can also bring about a huge difference when an allergic reaction is the underlying cause.

Treatment specifically revolves around pain management. The extent of the role of pain management in treating arthralgia varies largely depending on the specific, underlying cause. Common methods of pain management may include over-the-counter pain medications, stretching exercises, and prescription pain medication.

Among the common medications that help relieve joint pain caused by arthralgia is capsaicin, a substance normally found in bell peppers and chili peppers. This substance is said to block the actions of substance P, which significantly aids in transmitting pain signals. Capsaicin also triggers the release of pain-blocking elements and chemicals found in the human body commonly known as endorphins. However, there are some side effects associated with capsaicin cream, including stinging or burning sensation in the area and joint. Another topical medical option is arthritis cream containing the ingredient methyl salicylate.

Treatment for this condition will differ from person to person, depending on the joint(s) affected, the intensity of the pain, and the underlying cause of it. Treatments will address the specific cause, manage the symptoms, and alleviate the pain.

6 Alternative and homeopathic remedies

Minor arthralgia can be easily and conveniently treated at home with over-the-counter medications that help reduce pain and swelling. Patients can also ease the pain by stretching, taking a warm bath, or icing the affected joint.

There are many nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, and mild pain relievers, such as acetaminophen, available at pharmacies that can provide partial or absolute relief from the moderate joint and muscle pain. In the case of more severe or unrelenting pain, stronger pain relievers, such as acetaminophen combined with either oxycodone or codeine, may be required. These stronger medications help patients achieve short-term relief. Others include antidepressants like Cymbalta (duloxetine) or Effexor (venlafaxine), and corticosteroids, such as dexamethasone or prednisone.

Women who have AI-associated arthralgia can switch to a different AI to ease the pain. This is an effective method when symptom management is already inadequate. Along with these medications, physical therapy, such as acupuncture, exercise, and dietary supplements, can also bring about symptom relief. One dietary supplement that has shown potential in managing and easing joint pain is glucosamine.

7 Lifestyle and coping with arthralgia

People dealing with arthralgia should maintain a healthy lifestyle consisting of not just healthy eating, but also exercise routines to keep joint functionality in check.

Men and women experiencing severe joint pain should include therapies like acupuncture and yoga in their daily routines, as these are proven to bring long-term relief. They should also dedicate themselves to dietary supplements, which will help strengthen the immune system. According to recent studies on women with AI-related arthralgia, exercise programs help reduce the severity of joint pain. In this study, a group of women were asked to undergo a yearlong exercise schedule, and after a year, the results shown were drastic: their joint pain was reduced by at least 20 percent. Another small study was conducted on women past menopause with breast cancer who underwent a six-week program of acupuncture. The results showed huge improvements in their joint pain and, therefore, an improvement in their overall physical well-being.

8 Risks and complications associated with arthralgia

Arthralgia is a serious issue; if left untreated, it could turn an otherwise non-risky situation into a serious medical condition. The major risk factors revolving around arthralgia include a previous surgery or injury, old age, partaking in repetitive motions, and obesity. Accordingly, arthralgia is most prominent in obese people, older people, people who have undergone joint surgery, and people exercising repetitive motions in their daily lives.

The resultant complications of arthralgia include disability, amputation, serious infections, spread of infections, inability to perform normal daily tasks, spread of cancer, and visible abnormality of the affected joint. The risk factors and complications of both arthralgia and arthritis are quite similar, but the terms should not be confused with each other, in order to acquire treatment directed at your set of risk factors and resulting complications.

Since the complications involving the condition are dangerous and can cause disability for life, it should be taken immediately to the doctor and talked about at length.

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