Arthritis vs. Arthralgia: What’s the Difference?

Written by Robin Madell | Published on March 5, 2014
Medically Reviewed by George T. Krucik, MD, MBA on March 5, 2014

Which Do You Have?

Do you have arthritis, or do you have arthralgia? Many medical organizations use these terms interchangeably to signify any type of joint pain.

The Mayo Clinic, for example, states: “Joint pain is sometimes called arthritis or arthralgia.” And the National Institutes of Health (NIH) states that arthralgia is an alternative name for joint pain or arthritis, along with “stiffness in a joint.”

But other organizations do make a distinction between arthritis and arthralgia. Read through this article to learn about the characteristics of these conditions.

Pain vs. Inflammation

Certain health organizations do distinguish between the terms arthritis and arthralgia.

The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA) defines "aching or pain in the joints” as arthralgia. CCFA notes that you may experience arthralgia in different joints in the body, including the hands, knees, and ankles.

The organization defines arthritis, on the other hand, as “inflammation of the joints.” CCFA explains that while arthritis can lead to joint swelling and stiffness, it can also cause joint pain like arthralgia.

One, But Not the Other

When organizations define arthritis and arthralgia as separate conditions, the main distinction is based on whether a patient’s symptoms involve pain or inflammation.

The CCFA notes that when you have arthralgia (defined as joint pain), you may not necessarily be diagnosed with arthritis.

However, the opposite does not hold true. If you have arthritis (joint inflammation), you may also suffer from the joint pain of arthralgia.

Other Definitions of Arthralgia

Johns Hopkins is another expert group that distinguishes between arthritis and arthralgia. But the distinction differs from that of the CCFA.

Johns Hopkins Children’s Center defines arthritis as an inflammatory condition that causes "pain, stiffness and sometimes swelling in the joints."

Meanwhile, arthralgia is defined simply as “joint stiffness.” Identified symptoms, however, also include pain and swelling—just like in arthritis.

When to Seek Medical Attention

Clearly, it’s not always easy to tell whether you have arthritis, arthralgia, or another health condition.

Since many joint conditions share similar symptoms, talk to your doctor to help determine a diagnosis if you experience joint pain, stiffness, or swelling.

The Mayo Clinic advises immediate medical care if an injury causes joint pain. This is particularly important if you experience intense pain along with sudden joint swelling or an inability to move your joint.

Finding Out

Not all joint pain requires emergency care. The Mayo Clinic suggests making a regular appointment with your doctor if you suffer from mild to moderate joint pain.

Even if your joint pain involves redness, swelling, or tenderness, you can still address these symptoms in a routine visit with your doctor.

Treating Joint Pain

If you’re diagnosed with mild arthritis or arthralgia, your doctor may ask you to take some steps at home to ease your joint pain, swelling, or stiffness.

Your doctor may suggest that you take an over-the-counter pain reliever, or that you ice your painful joints. You might also be asked to limit the use of the affected joints until your symptoms improve.

In more serious cases, your doctor may suggest prescription medication or surgery.

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