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sudden onset multiple joint pain

Sudden Onset Multiple Joint Pain: Causes and Treatment

Sudden onset multiple joint pain can range from stiffness to immobilizing pain. It may occur as multiple joint pain without swelling (polyarthralgia) or be accompanied by joint inflammation (polyarthritis).

Causes of Multiple Joint Pain without Swelling

Non-inflammatory joint pain can be described as having either articular sources (emanating from within the joint) or periarticular sources. The latter refers to when structures (e.g., muscles, tendons, or ligaments) cause pain that seems to be radiating from within the joint. Common conditions that may cause periarticular joint pain include:

  • Bursitis- the irritation and inflammation of fluid-filled sac between bones, muscles, and tendons
  • Tendinitis- the inflammation of tendons
  • Fibromyalgia- a condition causing widespread musculoskeletal pain
  • Polymyalgia rheumatica- inflammation of the joint lining

Polyarticular joint pain may be a result of any of the following conditions:

  • Fractures and injuries
  • Viral infection
  • Overuse and exertion of the joints
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Bone infection or osteomyelitis caused by bacteria

Predisposing factors that increase the risk of non-inflammatory joint pain include:

  • Being overweight
  • Advanced age
  • Previous joint injury
  • Engaging in repetitive physical work
  • Having an inactive lifestyle
  • Being female
  • Working in a physically exerting job

Causes of Multiple Joint Pain with Swelling

Inflammation of multiple joints or arthritis is almost always accompanied by pain. The joints are usually swollen and warm and on rare occasions with discolored skin. Joint pain may be experienced only when the joint is in use or even when at rest. Joint pain can be acute, that is occurring suddenly, or chronic.

What can cause pain in multiple joints with swelling?

  • Viral infection
  • Gout
  • Lyme disease
  • Gonorrhea
  • Streptococcal bacterial infection
  • Arthritis caused by a primary condition of the urinary or digestive tract
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus
  • Septic arthritis
  • Leukemia
  • Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (in children)

When to See the Doctor when Experiencing Sudden Multiple Joint Pain

It is essential to pay attention to the symptoms that a person with sudden onset joint pain in multiple locations could be developing and contact a doctor should the problem be accompanied by other symptoms. The doctor will assess where the pain is located, its severity, and the history of diagnosis, among other factors. Symptoms that call for prompt medical attention include:

  • Swelling of the joints, warmth, and skin discoloration
  • Fever, chills, or profuse sweating
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Shortness of breath,chest pains, or a severe cough
  • Rashes or new skin blemishes
  • Eye pain or redness
  • genitals sores or sores in mouth or nose
  • weight loss or fatigue

The Differential Diagnosis for Sudden Onset Multiple Joint Pain

Determining the exact causes of sudden onset multiple joint pain may be difficult due to the extensive diagnosis that is required for the doctor to know if the problem is caused by a joint disorder or a more systemic issue. The diagnosis can be achieved by a thorough evaluation of the following factors:


The doctor will first investigate the history of the sudden onset joint pain in multiple locations, its onset, patterns, and duration. Pain that has been present for not more than 6 weeks may be the sign of a self-resolving disorder or chronic disease such as rheumatoid arthritis. Therefore, synovitis should be reported for six weeks for the patient to be diagnosed with chronic rheumatoid arthritis.

Related questions may surround the patient’s sexual contact, determine the possibility of a bacterial infection such as gonorrhea, and exposure to tick bites to determine a Lyme disease infection. Inflammatory disorders can also be zeroed in by acquiring the patient’s medical and family history, e.g., arthritis disorders such as Heberden’s osteoarthritis nodes, rheumatoid arthritis, and spondyloarthropathies have more likelihood of familial aggregation.


Age is also an important factor in diagnosing the cause of multiple joint pain. Younger people are more likely to suffer from spondyloarthropathies, rheumatic fever, reactive arthritis, systemic lupus, erythematosus, and rheumatoid arthritis. On the flip side, older people are more likely to suffer from giant cell arteritis, polymyalgia rheumatica, and osteoarthritis.


Gender also plays a crucial part in determining the cause of experiencing joint pain all over. Premenopausal women are more likely to develop systemic lupus erythematosus. They also have an elevated likelihood of developing rheumatoid arthritis than their male counterparts. Women are also more susceptible to to suffering from fibromyalgia. On the other hand, gout has a faster onset in men than in women.

Physical Examination

The examination includes evaluating all major organs to detect any anomalies such as skin discolorations, lesions, cardiac problems, abnormal genital discharge or ulcers, musculoskeletal deformities, joint tenderness, or swelling. For instance, a patient who presents with widespread joint pain without inflammation may be diagnosed with osteoarthritis and psoriatic arthritis, whereas one without inflammation is likely to be diagnosed with only psoriatic arthritis.

Furthermore, in cases where the swelling is around the joint or away from the joint line, it may indicate a periarticular source of pain, such as muscles or tendons. The ability and extent of joint movement is another indicator of the problem’s origin since polyarticular pain would naturally inhibit active and passive joint motion. In contrast, periarticular’s pain causes such as tendinitis or bursitis will allow for more passive joint motion.

Another important indicator is whether the pain increases with joint activity and lessens with rest. The behavior is an indication of a non-inflammatory condition such as osteoarthritis. On the other hand, joint pain with rest as well as with joint motion is indicative of joint inflammation.

The physical evaluation may also unveil if joints are affected symmetrically or asymmetrically. The former may suggest a case of rheumatoid arthritis, whereas the latter points to gout, psoriatic arthritis, or enteropathic arthritis.

If the physical evaluation and historical assessment do not give a conclusive diagnosis, further laboratory tests should be conducted.

Testing for Sudden Onset Multiple Joint Pain

The doctor’s findings will then inform the necessary tests to be carried out. Tests may include tests for fluid in the joint in the case of joint swelling and blood tests checking for:

  • Rheumatoid factor
  • Erythrocyte sedimentation rate
  • Uric acid
  • C-reactive protein
  • Antinuclear antibodies

Testing may also include imaging tests such as CT scans, MRI, radiography, or ultrasound scan to view the joints and the surrounding tissue.

Sudden Onset Multiple Joint Pain Treatment

The conventional treatment procedure is to ensure that the underlying condition is treated first. This would mean giving antibiotics to patients with bacterial infections or immune suppressants for patients with a condition such as systemic erythematosus for acute and chronic arthritis. Symptoms can also be relieved with NSAIDs for pain with inflammation.

Multiple pain without swelling is often treated with acetaminophen to relieve joint soreness. However, non-medical interventions may also be used to alleviate the symptoms, such as:

  • Wrapping a sling around the joint can relieve pain.
  • Applying heat can relieve muscle spasm in case of an injury
  • Moderate exercising such as walking
  • Resting the joint by refraining from any strenuous activities
  • Eating a healthy diet for weight management or weight loss
  • Adopting better posture
  • Physiotherapy sessions for the affected joints provided by a professional

Final Thoughts

When effectively diagnosed, treated, or managed,sudden onset joint pain in multiple locations is treated or managed, whether acute or chronic. The illness should not hinder you from living a healthy, productive everyday life.

Are you experiencing sudden onset multiple joint pain and don’t know what to do? Book an appointment to talk to one of our professionals today.




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