There are several possible causes of sudden joint pain, such as gout, infections, and tendinitis. Other possible causes are injuries, such as fractures, dislocations, sprains, and strains.

Sudden joint pain can be uncomfortable and affect a person’s ability to carry out daily tasks.

If a person experiences sudden joint pain, it may be a sign that they have an injury or developed a chronic condition.

In this article, we explain what a joint is and outline some possible causes of sudden joint pain.

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A joint is a point in the body where two bones meet. Most of the body’s joints are mobile, which means they allow the bones to move.

There are three types of joints in the body:

  • Fibrous: These joints are fixed and are often immovable. These include the joints between the:
    • plates in the skull
    • teeth
    • bones in the lower part of the arms and the legs
  • Cartilaginous: These are a type of joint where only cartilage holds the bones together. These are slightly mobile joints that allow a small amount of movement. One example of this type of joint is the joint between the right and left pubic bones.
  • Synovial: These joints allow a lot of movement and are the main functional joints of the body that allow the limbs and other body parts to move. These joints feature a cavity that contains synovial fluid, which allows the bones within the joint to move freely. Examples of synovial joints include:
    • knee
    • hip
    • elbow
    • shoulder

A number of medical conditions or other factors may cause a person to experience sudden pain in any of the joints.

Gout is a common form of inflammatory arthritis. Gout’s symptoms appear in flares that begin suddenly and can last for days or weeks.

Common symptoms of gout affecting the joints include:

  • intense pain, which usually affects one joint at a time
  • swelling
  • redness
  • joints that are hot to touch

Males are three times more likely than females to develop gout.

Gout develops in some people with high uric acid levels in their bodies. Uric acid builds up when a person’s body breaks down purines. Purines are in some human cells and many foods. Foods that contain purines include:

When uric acid builds up in a person’s body, it can cause needle-like crystals to form. These crystals can lodge in joints, which causes severe pain and swelling.

Septic arthritis is the name for joint infection. Bacterial infections that spread through the bloodstream often cause septic arthritis.

However, other infection types that can cause septic arthritis include:

These infections may begin in a distant part of the body, such as the skin or the gastrointestinal tract.

Septic arthritis may affect the joint in many ways, such as:

  • pain
  • sudden swelling
  • joints that are warm to touch
  • limited range of motion around the affected joint

A person may also experience systemic symptoms from the infection affecting other body parts. These symptoms include:

Tendinitis causes tenderness and pain in areas around the joint, such as in:

  • tendons
  • muscles
  • ligaments

It may occur suddenly, causing sudden joint pain. Tendinitis may last for days or a longer period. Tendinitis pain becomes worse with movement. It usually improves after rest or treatment.

Tendinitis is most common in people over the age of 40 and athletes.

Several factors can cause tendinitis, including:

A person can injure their joints in many ways. Below are some injuries that can cause sudden joint pain:

  • Sprain: A sprain occurs when a person damages a ligament in their body. Ligaments are bands of connective tissue that join the ends of two bones, commonly in and around joints. A person may experience a strain due to trauma from a fall or blow that knocks a joint out of position.
  • Strain: A strain occurs when a person twists, pulls, or tears a muscle or a tendon. Tendons are tissues that connect muscles to bone. Strains most commonly occur in muscles or tendons.
  • Fracture: A fracture is a break in a bone. Fractures can occur from a quick injury or repeated stress over time. If a person fractures a bone that makes up part of a joint, it may cause them to experience sudden joint pain.
  • Dislocation: A dislocation occurs when there is a complete separation of the two bones that form a joint.

Sudden joint pain may also indicate a person is developing a chronic condition. These may include:

  • Arthritis: “Arthritis” is an umbrella term for over 100 conditions. It can cause inflammation of the joints, which can cause chronic joint pain.
  • Fibromyalgia: This is a chronic condition that causes body-wide pain and fatigue. Fibromyalgia can cause chronic pain in the joints, muscles, and the body’s soft tissues.
  • Still’s disease: This is a rare inflammatory disorder that causes inflammation. Still’s disease can affect a person’s joints, causing joint pain.
  • Hypothyroidism: This is the medical term for an underactive thyroid. It occurs when the thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormones.
  • Bone cancer: This is a form of cancer that develops when the cells in the bone begin to grow out of control. Bone cancer can affect any bone, including the bones in a person’s joints.
  • Bursitis: This is the term for the inflammation of the bursa. Bursa are fluid-filled sacs that act as a cushion between bones and muscle, skin, or tendons.

If someone experiences sudden joint pain, they may wish to speak with a doctor. A doctor may be able to diagnose the cause of the pain and begin treating the cause.

Early treatment is important if a person is experiencing joint pain from a chronic condition. Receiving a prompt diagnosis and treatment can prevent complications from developing.

Moreover, early diagnosis and treatment are essential at the initial evaluation if a person has an ankle sprain. This is because the correct treatment can help prevent long-term damage, such as:

  • recurrent ankle instability
  • arthritic progression
  • long-term disability

Meanwhile, someone who has experienced a fractured joint or a dislocation may also require immediate medical attention to help reduce pain and prevent long-term damage.

Finally, a medical professional must diagnose a person’s septic arthritis early to prevent complications. Early treatment is crucial for helping preserve joint function. This infection may rapidly damage or destroy the joint without medical intervention.

There are a number of possible causes of sudden joint pain, including sprain or fracture, or a sign of an underlying chronic condition.

Doctors recommend a person seek medical attention to receive a suitable diagnosis and treatment to avoid worsening symptoms or possible complications from developing.