Arthralgia and arthritis are two conditions that lead to joint pain. Arthralgia actually stems from the Greek term meaning joint pain. The main difference between arthralgia and arthritis is the presence of inflammation. Although both may share many symptoms, if there’s no inflammation, that means you have arthralgia. If inflammation is present along with joint pain, then it is arthritis.
Inflammatory arthralgia is possible, but unlike other forms of inflammatory arthritis that affect larger, weight-bearing joints, inflammatory arthralgia commonly affects the smaller joints found in the fingers and toes. Furthermore, redness and warmth of the inflamed joints aren’t usually the case in inflammatory arthralgia unlike other forms of inflammatory arthritis, including osteoarthritis.
Navigating the differences between arthralgia and arthritis joint pain can be confusing. Below you will find what sets the two conditions apart in terms of causes, symptoms, risk factors, complications, and treatments.
Arthralgia and arthritis differences in signs and symptoms
Symptoms of arthralgia may be regular (even daily) or may only appear once in a while. These include feeling of burning, itchiness, numbness, pain or tenderness, redness, warmth or swelling, reduced range of motion, stiffness, tingling, or other unusual sensations.
There are some symptoms of arthralgia that may indicate a serious health problem, so you should seek medical attention immediately. These symptoms include bone protruding from skin, extensive bleeding, fever not associated with flu, severe joint pain, and sudden development of joint deformity.
The main signs and symptoms of arthritis include joint pain, joint stiffness, and swelling. These symptoms can vary in severity between less severe to borderline debilitating. You may also experience redness around the affected joint. Generally, people with arthritis joint pain experience worsened symptoms in the morning that improve throughout the day. If you suffer from rheumatoid arthritis – an autoimmune disease – it could also lead to disfigurement of the joints.
Difference between arthralgia and arthritis causes
Arthralgia can stem from injury, infection, immune disorders, allergic reactions, and degenerative disease. Common causes include gout, osteoarthritis, Reiter’s syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, and septic arthritis. As you can see, arthralgia is often caused by different types of arthritis, which can make the condition difficult to diagnose.
The Arthritis Foundation lists 62 different types of arthritis along with common conditions that can cause arthritic symptoms. The cause of arthritis depends on its type. For example, osteoarthritis is caused by the wear and tear of cartilage between the joints. Rheumatoid arthritis, on the other hand, is an autoimmune disease caused by an abnormal response of the immune system.
Arthralgia vs. arthritis: Risk factors and complications
Risk factors for arthralgia include older age, obesity, partaking in repetitive motions, and a previous injury or surgery.
Complications resulting from arthralgia include amputation, disability, inability to perform daily tasks, serious infection, spread of cancer, spread of infection, and visible deformity of the affected joint.
Risk factors for developing arthritis include having a family history of arthritis, being of older age, being a female, suffering from a previous joint injury, and being overweight or obese as it adds additional stress to the joints speeding up wear and tear.
Complications of arthritis include difficulties performing everyday tasks, difficulty walking or standing, and joint deformity. Arthritis complications are also specific to the type of arthritis you have. For example, if you have rheumatoid arthritis, you may experience joint deformity along with inflammation throughout the body, impeding the functioning of other organs.
As you can see, when it comes to risk factors and complications, arthritis and arthralgia are quite similar.
Comparing arthralgia and arthritis diagnosis
To diagnose arthralgia, your doctor will look at your medical history for any previous reports of injury or pain. Knowing what time of the day the joint pain occurs and the presence of other symptoms, like fever, sore throat, fatigue, or swelling, can aid in arthralgia diagnosis as well.
Laboratory tests to diagnose arthralgia include erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), C-reactive Protein (CRP), a complete blood count (hemoglobin, hematocrit, red blood cell, and white blood cell counts), and uric acid level. Your doctor may also analyze your joint fluid and request X-rays to look for any tumors, fractures, or pockets of fluid. Other tests include MRI, CT scan, ultrasound, arthroscopy, synovial biopsy, bone scanning, bone biopsy, and electrodiagnostics like electromycardiography and nerve conduction studies.
To properly diagnose arthritis, your doctor will perform a complete physical exam, checking the fluids around your joints, checking for warmth and red areas, and testing your range of motion. For determining the type of arthritis you have your doctor will have to send blood and joint fluid samples off to the lab for further analysis. X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans may also be useful in diagnosing arthritis and ruling out other conditions.
Differentiating treatment: Arthralgia vs. arthritis
The goal of arthralgia treatment is similar to that of arthritis. For proper symptom management, multiple therapies may be combined to offer relief and improve joint function.
Treatment methods of arthralgia include:
- Pain-relieving medications
- Physical and occupational therapy
- Antibiotics if infection is present
- Treatment for gout
- Use of splints, canes, crutches, braces, and wheelchairs
- Surgery to restore lost function of joints
- Water therapy
- Hot and cold therapy
- Healthy lifestyle like wholesome diet and regular exercise
As mentioned, these treatments may be prescribed in combination to offer the most relief for your symptoms and to improve mobility.
The main goal of arthritis treatment is to improve mobility and reduce pain all the while preventing further damage to the joints. Some medications your doctor may prescribe include analgesics, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and menthol or capsaicin creams to block transmission of pain signals from the joints. For rheumatoid arthritis specifically, your doctor may prescribe corticosteroids or disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) to suppress your immune system.
In some cases, surgery is necessary to replace severely damaged joints with new artificial ones. Physical therapy may also aid in treatment as it can help boost mobility and strengthen muscles.
As you can see, arthritis and arthralgia can easily be confused with one another due to the shared commonalities. It’s important that you get the proper testing done in order to accurately diagnose the specific condition you have.