Joint discomfort may affect the function of the joint, and can limit a person's ability to do basic tasks. Arthritis and arthralgia are related terms but have distinct differences. Both are related to joint pains and can affect the quality of life. In this post, we will be discussing the signs and symptoms of these two conditions, what causes them and also what are their similarities and differences.
What is arthralgia?
Arthralgia is made up of two Greek words, arthro (joint) and algos (pain), and it means pain in a joint. It is not a specific medical condition but rather a symptom that can occur due to various medical conditions. Generally arthralgia is used to describe joint pain not caused by inflammatory diseases like arthritis. When you have pain in several joints, it is called polyarthralgia.
Why is knowing about arthralgia important?
Arthralgia can cause pain and discomfort in our daily life. Besides affecting daily activities, it also affects our mobility, sleep, and overall well-being. Understanding arthralgia can help us to recognise and describe the signs and symptoms to healthcare professionals accurately. This will enable a more accurate diagnosis and develop an effective treatment plan.
Besides treatment, it is best to take preventive measures to reduce the likelihood of developing arthralgia or worsening of the symptoms. This may include maintaining a healthy weight, adopting proper posture and avoiding overuse or repetitive strain on our joints.
What are the symptoms and signs of arthralgia?
Arthralgia can affect one or more joints in the body. The symptoms associated with arthralgia can vary depending on the underlying cause and the specific joint affected. The pain may be constant or intermittent and can vary in intensity. Some of the symptoms may include:
- Dull, aching or sharp pain
- Mild ache or soreness
- Limited joint motion
- Swelling and stiffness
- Locking of the joint
Some symptoms may appear only when taking part in certain activities such as exercising, and at certain times, the symptoms may also appear for no reason.
What are the common causes of arthralgia?
Arthralgia can have many different underlying causes. Some of these can be mild while some causes may require medical attention or medication. Conditions that may cause arthralgia may include:
- Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis
- Osteoarthritis commonly caused by cartilage damage in the joints
- Gout, which are crystals formed in the joints
- Injury, such as fractures
- Allergic reaction to food or medication
- Overuse of a joint such as excessive exercise
What is arthritis?
Arthritis is a broad term used to describe inflammation of the joints. Arthritis can affect one or more joints in the body and can be chronic or acute. There are many types of arthritis with different types of cause and treatment. The most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
What are the symptoms and signs of arthritis?
The symptoms of arthritis can vary depending on the type of arthritis and the joints that are affected. A few of common signs and symptoms are listed below:
- Joint pain
- Joint stiffness
- Hot and swelling joint
- Joint redness
- Limited motion on a joint
- Deformed joint
It is important to know that arthritis is a complex condition therefore, the symptoms can vary from person to person.
What are the common causes of arthritis?
There are several types of arthritis, with the most common ones listed below:
Osteoarthritis is more common in older people as it is caused by natural wear and tear of joint cartilage over time. Aging, repetitive joint use, joint injuries, obesity, and genetic factors are the most common risk factors of osteoarthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune form of arthritis where the immune system mistakenly attacks the healthy joint tissues. The exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unknown, but it is believed to involve a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
Gout occurs due to the building up of uric acid crystals in the joints. It usually affects the joint in the big toe but it may affect other joints as well. Gout is caused by a buildup of uric acid in the body, mainly associated with dietary factors, genetic predisposition, and certain medical conditions.
Some infections will cause arthritis such as bacterial or viral infection, which can cause joint inflammation and joint damage.
Certain individuals with psoriasis can develop some form of arthritis. It is believed to be an autoimmune condition, where the immune system attacks healthy joint tissues.
How are arthralgia and arthritis diagnosed
Both arthralgia and arthritis can be diagnosed through a combination of medical history assessment, physical examination, laboratory tests, and imaging studies. Scans may be done to check for joint inflammation and damage and this information can be used to help tell the difference between types of arthritis and can be used to monitor how your condition is progressing over time. There may also be joint fluid analysis in cases where joint swelling is present.
How are arthralgia and arthritisis treated?
The treatment for arthralgia and arthritis depends on the underlying cause, severity of symptoms, and the specific type of arthritis. Common treatment options are listed below:
- Medication as prescribed by doctors
- Over the counter pain relievers such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can help to relieve pain and reduce inflammation of the joints
- Physical therapies and exercises
- Proper technique and low-impact exercises such as swimming, cycling, and walking can help to improve joint mobility and reduce pain without placing excessive stress on the joints.
- Lifestyle modifications
- Maintaining a healthy weight can help to reduce burden on our joints and reduce the risk of further joint damage.
- Taking fish oil supplements that contain omega-3 fatty acids can also help to manage inflammation in arthritis. Other supplements like glucosamine sulphate and chondroitin sulphate can help to slow down the osteoarthritis progression and manage the symptoms of osteoarthritis.
- Applying heat or cold packs to the affected joint can help to relieve the pain and inflammation on the joint.
- Using canes, walkers, or other assistive devices can also help reduce joint stress and improve mobility.
- In certain serious joint damage, surgery might be needed such as joint replacement surgery.
What are the complications of arthralgia and arthritis?
Both arthralgia and arthritis can lead to several complications, and especially if they are left untreated and ignored. Chronic inflammation in arthritis can lead to progressive joint damage and erosion of cartilage. This can result in joint deformities, restricted range of motion, and functional impairment. Chronic pain and limitations in mobility experienced by individuals suffering from arthralgia or arthritis will significantly reduce their quality of life. They may have to be more dependent on others and this may lead to decreased productivity and emotional distress. Depression, anxiety, and decreased overall well-being are common in individuals with joint problems.
What are the differences and similarities?
Although both share many similarities, arthralgia refers to joint pain irrespective of the cause, and does not always mean that arthritis is present. Arthritis involves inflammation of one or more joints. It's important to note that arthralgia can be a symptom of arthritis, but not all cases of arthralgia necessarily indicate the presence of arthritis. If you do experience signs or symptoms of joint discomfort, do pay a visit to a healthcare professional to evaluate the symptoms, conduct appropriate tests, and receive accurate diagnosis and treatment.
- Joint Pain. Pennmedicine.org. (n.d.). https://www.pennmedicine.org/for-patients-and-visitors/patient-information/conditions-treated-a-to-z/joint-pain
- Rob S Williams, M. (n.d.). Arthralgia (joint pain): Causes and solutions. Arthralgia (Joint Pain): Causes and Solutions. https://www.coastalorthoteam.com/blog/arthralgia-joint-pain-causes-and-solutions#:~:text=If%20your%20joints%20are%20aching,allergic%20reactions%20or%20food%20intolerances.