Arthritis and arthralgia are similar. In the strictest sense, arthralgia simply refers to joint pain. Arthritis is inflammation in the joints, which also causes symptoms such as pain and stiffness.

Many people now use the two terms interchangeably to describe joint pain. However, while the two issues are similar, there are key differences.

In this article, learn what differentiates arthritis and arthralgia, as well as their causes, symptoms, and treatments.

a person with a stiff elbow due to either Arthritis or arthralgiaShare on Pinterest
Both arthritis and arthralgia may cause muscles and joints to feel stiff.

Arthritis and arthralgia are similar terms, and it can be easy to confuse them. Arthralgia refers to pain or aching in a joint. When similar pain affects more than one joint, the medical name is polyarthralgia.

Importantly, arthralgia pain occurs without the distinct inflammation in the joint that characterizes arthritis.

Some medical professionals consider arthralgia to be a precursor to arthritis in some situations.

Arthritis occurs when inflammation in a joint causes pain. Arthritis can result from varying underlying factors, and there are many forms of arthritis.

In a person with arthritis, inflammation is the cause of pain in the affected joint.

In a person with arthralgia, inflammation is either not present or not the underlying cause of the joint pain.

Still, some people use arthralgia and arthritis interchangeably to describe symptoms of pain, stiffness, and inflammation in the joints.

The main symptom of both arthralgia and arthritis is pain in one or more joints, and the pain can be similar.

Joint pain is the only symptom of arthralgia, while a person with arthritis may also experience:

  • inflammation or redness in or around the joint
  • stiffness
  • a reduced range of motion

Arthritis is a complex condition. The Arthritis Foundation notes that there are over 100 different types of arthritis and conditions related to it.

Arthritis can cause other issues, including:

  • loss of cartilage or bone in the joint
  • buildup of bone tissue
  • changes in the formation of the joint
  • joints that snap into place or lock, instead of moving fluidly
  • loss of mobility
  • sudden, severe pain from uric acid deposits in the joint
  • severe pain as the bones in the joint rub together

There are many risk factors for arthritis and arthralgia, including:

  • general wear and tear
  • previous injury to the joint
  • genetic abnormality
  • obesity
  • inflammatory conditions, such as lupus, psoriasis, or gout
  • other immune-related conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, which causes the body to attack healthy tissues in the joints

The risk factors above also apply to arthralgia, but short-term issues can also cause it.

Other risk factors for arthralgia include:

  • a minor sprain in the joint
  • dislocation of the joint
  • strong muscle strains in the area
  • injuries to the connective tissues in the joint

In addition, some health conditions can cause joint pain without inflammation. Among these conditions are hypothyroidism and certain cancers, especially those that involve the bone marrow.

Treatments for both arthralgia and arthritis depend on their underlying cause.

If symptoms are severe, possibly involving a loss of mobility, a doctor may recommend surgery to replace or rebuild the joint and help the person regain their range of motion.

If another underlying issue is causing the symptoms, the doctor may recommend various medications to treat it or alter its course.

Even if arthralgia or arthritis symptoms are not severe, the doctor will want to rule out other underlying issues before recommending simpler treatments and home remedies.

Home remedies

Doctors will often recommend similar home remedies to manage symptoms of arthralgia and arthritis.

Physical therapy and exercise may be the best methods of managing joint pain from these conditions.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that regular physical activity can help manage arthritis pain as effectively as over-the-counter medications.

Regularly getting low-impact exercise, such as by swimming, cycling, or practicing yoga, may help reduce pain and keep the muscles around the joints strong.

Other at-home methods of managing symptoms include:

  • alternately using warm and cold compresses to relieve pain and stiffness
  • using an over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, such as ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve), to relieve pain
  • practicing relaxation techniques, such as meditation, tai chi, and massage therapy
  • resting to avoid overworking the muscles and tissues in the joint

A person cannot experience arthralgia and arthritis in the same joint at the same time.

Arthritis involves inflammation, whereas arthralgia is joint pain that has no inflammatory cause.

Arthralgia may lead to arthritis, in some cases. For instance, a person who has joint pain from an old injury may experience more rapid wear and tear of the joint. This can cause some types of arthritis, such as inflammatory osteoarthritis.

Also, a 2018 review notes that arthralgia in the joints will eventually progress to rheumatoid arthritis in some people.

As a result, doctors sometimes view arthralgia as a precursor to arthritis, especially if the person has risk factors for the condition.

A complete diagnostic evaluation, which includes an assessment of risk factors, may help a doctor provide treatment early in the progression of the disorder.

However, according to the authors of the review, it still difficult to correctly identify who will develop rheumatoid arthritis, for example.

Arthritis and arthralgia both cause joint pain.

Arthralgia is joint pain that does not result from inflammation. If inflammation is the cause of joint pain, a person has some form of arthritis.

A doctor will do a thorough diagnostic evaluation to help eliminate other possible issues before making a diagnosis and recommending treatment.

In some cases, arthralgia may be a precursor to certain forms of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis. While researchers are working on ways to identify early signs of the condition, it is currently difficult to tell who will develop this disorder.