Arthritis is an inflammatory condition that affects a person’s joints. Arthralgia is a medical term for joint pain. People may use these terms interchangeably, but this is incorrect.
Read on to learn more about the differences between arthritis and arthralgia.
Arthritis is a diagnosable condition with many subtypes, while arthralgia is a common pain symptom.
Arthritis is inflammation of one or more joints. There are several different forms of arthritis that affect the cartilage, bone, and ligaments in joints, as well as the surrounding tissues.
- Osteoarthritis: Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease where the cartilage in your joints begins to break down over time. As a result, bones in a joint rub together, causing damage and inflammation.
- Rheumatoid arthritis: In rheumatoid arthritis (RA), your immune system attacks healthy cells in and around your joints.
- Psoriatic arthritis: Like RA, psoriatic arthritis is an autoimmune condition that affects joint tissue and occurs with psoriasis.
- Gout: Gout is a common form of inflammatory arthritis. It occurs when uric acid crystals build up in a joint, causing inflammation. Uric acid is a naturally occurring waste product from purine metabolism.
Arthralgia refers to joint pain. This may occur due to injury or infection, but it does not occur due to inflammation.
Arthralgia in more than one joint is polyarthralgia.
Arthralgia is pain in a joint, while arthritis is a diagnosable condition. A person with arthritis may experience arthralgia, but arthralgia is not always the result of arthritic inflammation.
In some cases, arthralgia may be a precursor symptom for arthritic conditions.
Arthralgia singularly means pain in a joint. Alongside this joint pain, a person may experience:
- joint aches
- reduced ability to move your joints
These are usually the only symptoms of arthralgia. Arthritis, on the other hand, occurs due to joint inflammation. Additional symptoms of arthritis can include:
- joint deformation
- loss of bone and cartilage, leading to complete joint immobility
- intense pain from bones scraping against each other
- synovial thickening
- complications from a joint injury
- obesity, as the above-average body weight puts pressure on your joints
- wear and tear on the joint
Arthralgia has a much wider variety of causes without relation to arthritis, including:
Arthralgia can occur with many conditions. You may think you have arthritis when your arthralgia is a symptom of an underlying condition. Joint conditions share similar symptoms, so talk with a doctor about a diagnosis if you experience joint pain, stiffness, or swelling.
You should seek immediate medical care if an injury causes joint pain, especially if it’s intense and comes with sudden joint swelling. You should also seek medical attention if you can’t move your joint.
Not all joint pain requires emergency care. If you have mild to moderate joint pain, you should make regular appointments with a doctor. If your joint pain involves discoloration, swelling, or tenderness, you can address these symptoms in a routine visit with a doctor.
Testing for diagnosing arthralgia or specific types of arthritis can include:
- blood tests, which can check erythrocyte sedimentation rate or C-reactive protein levels
- anticyclic citrullinated peptide (anti-CCP) antibody tests
- anti-nuclear antibody (ANA) tests to screen for lupus.
- rheumatoid factor tests
- removal of joint fluid for testing, bacterial culture, and crystal analysis
- biopsies of affected joint tissue
Without proper treatment, many forms of arthritis can lead to potentially severe complications. For example, severe rheumatoid arthritis can lead to:
- widespread inflammation
- carpal tunnel syndrome
- joint damage
- cardiovascular disease
- cervical myelopathy
In addition, osteoarthritis can
Complications of arthralgia are generally not serious unless an underlying inflammatory condition causes the arthralgia.
Arthralgia is a symptom rather than a condition, so complications will typically occur due to the underlying cause of the joint pain.
The following home treatments may help reduce joint pain.
- Exercise every day for at least a half-hour. Swimming and other water-based activities can help decrease joint pressure.
- Try relaxation techniques, such as meditation.
- Use hot or cold compresses to relieve joint pain and stiffness.
- Join a support group, in-person or online, for people with arthritis or arthralgia.
- Rest often to avoid symptoms of fatigue and weakness in your muscles.
- Take an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
In more serious cases of arthritis or arthralgia, your doctor may recommend medication or surgery, especially if it’s caused by an underlying condition. Some treatments for serious arthritis include:
- disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) for rheumatoid arthritis
- biologic drugs for psoriatic arthritis, such as adalimumab (Humira), certolizumab (Cimzia), and IL-17 and IL-23 inhibitors
- joint replacement or reconstruction surgery
Talk with your doctor about which treatment will work best for your type of arthritis. Drugs can have side effects, and surgeries may require lifestyle changes. Knowing and preparing for these changes is before deciding on a treatment is important.
People may use arthritis and arthralgia interchangeably, but this is incorrect. Arthritis is an umbrella term for several inflammatory joint conditions, while arthralgia is a medical term for joint pain without inflammation.
People with arthritis typically experience arthralgia, but the reverse is not the same. People can experience joint pain for many other reasons, such as direct trauma and viral infections.