Polyarthralgia is when pain occurs in several joints of the body. Possible causes include injuries, viruses, overuse, and arthritis. Medication, stretching, and other approaches can often help manage it.
It can have several underlying causes, it is more common in older people, and women tend to develop it more frequently than men.
In this article, we take a look at the symptoms and causes of polyarthralgia, as well as the treatment options available for the condition.
Polyarthralgia is a non-inflammatory condition that can have several symptoms, including:
- joint pain
- joint tenderness
- stiffness of the joints
- swelling of the joints
- limited joint movement
How painful the joints feel will also depend on the person’s emotional state and pain tolerance.
Differences with other types of arthralgia, arthritis, and polymyalgia
Although sharing some similarities, polyarthralgia differs from other inflammatory and non-inflammatory pain syndromes in the following ways:
- arthralgia affects one joint instead of several joints
- arthritis pain is associated with joint inflammation, which is absent in arthralgia and polyarthralgia
- polyarthritis pain is also associated with joint inflammation and usually affects five or more joints
- oligoarthritis or oligoarticular disease affects two to four joints
- osteoarthritis causes pain in the joints of the knee, hips, and hands
- myalgia refers to muscle pain with no signs of inflammation
- polymyalgia is muscle pain that affects several muscles
Polyarthralgia can have several causes, which may include the following:
- injuries and fractures
- infections caused by a virus
- certain autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus
- bursitis, the swelling and irritation of the fluid-filled cushion between muscles, tendons, and bones
- tendinitis, which is the swelling or inflammation of tendons
- excessive use and effort of the joints
- osteomyelitis, a bone infection caused by bacteria or other germs
- septic arthritis, which is inflammation of the joints due to a bacterial or fungal infection
A person may have increased risk for polyarthralgia if they:
- are overweight
- have a sedentary, inactive lifestyle
- have a physically demanding job
- have a job that involves repetitive actions
- have had a previous joint injury
- are female
- are an older person
The medical diagnosis of polyarthralgia includes an initial evaluation of the person by the doctor. This evaluation usually includes looking at the person’s medical history and a physical examination. It may also include specific tests and imaging techniques.
When looking at the person’s medical history, the doctor may ask questions such as whether the pain appeared after an injury, or whether there is a family history of joint disease.
Physical examination typically includes inspection, feeling the joints, checking their range of motion, and specific tests. The doctor will likely try to work out the exact location of the pain and which joints were affected first.
Laboratory testing may be required to help make a diagnosis. This may include blood tests to check for the following:
- rheumatoid factor
- erythrocyte sedimentation rate
- uric acid
- C-reactive protein
- antinuclear antibodies
A doctor may perform an arthrocentesis, a procedure to remove fluid from the joints, which will relieve the pain. Analysis of the fluid will also give the doctor a clearer view of the medical condition causing the problem.
Finally, imaging techniques can also be used to help diagnosis. Methods may include radiography, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ultrasound, and computed tomography (CT) scans.
CT scans may be performed in combination with a dye injection to give a better view of the cartilage, ligaments, and the tissue surrounding the joint.
Treatment of polyarthralgia can involve medication or medication-free strategies. The goal of treatment is to reduce pain, promote healing, and allow the joints to continue to work properly.
Several medications are available that can help to control the pain and relieve joint swelling.
In cases of moderate to severe joint pain, doctors frequently prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), or cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) inhibitors.
Studies have shown that both treatments are similarly effective, although COX-2 inhibitors cause fewer side effects in the gut.
Acetaminophen may be used to relieve joint soreness in cases of mild pain.
Several interventions and lifestyle changes are encouraged to protect and strengthen the joint.
Doctors and physical therapists may recommend moderate physical exercises, such as walking, swimming, and stationary cycling. These activities do not place too much weight on the joints and help to reduce stress on them.
Other suggestions include:
- resting the joints
- eating a healthful diet to lose or maintain weight
- taking warm baths
- having massages
- doing stretching exercises
Changing simple daily habits, such as adopting a better posture in everyday life, can relieve joint pain and help a person to cope with it.
Keeping the joint still in the short term can be helpful for pain control and protection. However, long periods without moving the joint can lead to joint stiffness and loss of movement. Ideally, try moving the joint gently without applying any weight.
Physical therapists may provide other alternatives and specific techniques to help manage and control pain, including using ultrasound, electrical currents, heat, cold, skin irritants, and electrical nerve stimulation.
Polyarthralgia is a medical condition of painful joints with no evidence of inflammation. It can have several causes, often only lasts for a short time, and does not require immediate treatment.
Several actions can be taken to limit and relieve pain. Depending on its severity, people can take pain medications such as opioids and NSAIDs.
Education and lifestyle changes can also be used to ensure that daily activities are pain-free and to maintain a good quality of life.