Most underlying causes of joint pain are localized, meaning you feel it in one place. However, it’s possible to experience more widespread joint pain and stiffness from certain conditions.

These causes may include the flu, certain types of arthritis, and autoimmune diseases.

Learn more about the possible causes of widespread joint pain, including symptoms and possible treatment options.

Below are possible causes of widespread joint pain to consider:


The flu is a highly contagious respiratory illness that’s caused by the influenza virus. Not only can its symptoms be mild to severe, but the symptoms also tend to develop suddenly. This includes widespread aches and chills all over the body.

Other possible symptoms of the flu may include:

  • fever
  • fatigue
  • sore throat
  • cough
  • headache
  • runny nose
  • diarrhea and vomiting (especially in children)

Overall, symptoms of the flu may last up to 1 to 2 weeks without treatment. To help prevent the seasonal flu, it’s recommended that everyone ages 6 months and older receive an annual flu shot.


COVID-19 is another type of virus that may cause symptoms that develop more suddenly. This usually happens within 2 to 14 days after you’ve been exposed to the virus.

Like the flu, COVID-19 symptoms may range in severity and may include muscle aches and pains all over your body. You might also experience:

  • fever and chills
  • fatigue
  • headache
  • loss of taste or smell
  • shortness of breath
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • nasal congestion/runny nose
  • diarrhea
  • nausea or vomiting

Since many of these symptoms are similar to the flu, it’s important to get tested to rule out COVID-19.

Post-viral complications

While the flu, COVID-19, and other viral infections may improve on their own, it’s possible to experience more long-term symptoms. These are known as post-viral complications and may include long-COVID, post-viral syndrome, or reactive arthritis.

Such post-viral complications may cause:

A 2022 study suggests that COVID-19 may increase the risk of cardiovascular problems in some people.

Myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS)

ME/CFS is a long-term condition that sometimes develops after a viral infection, such as COVID-19. However, the exact cause isn’t always known.

The symptoms of ME/CFS last for 6 months or longer, and significantly disrupt your everyday activities. Common symptoms include:

  • joint pain (but without inflammation or redness)
  • muscle aches
  • headaches
  • post-exertional malaise
  • dizziness upon standing up
  • recurring sore throat
  • unrestful sleep
  • tender lymph nodes
  • digestive issues and food sensitivities


Gout is a type of arthritis that has a sudden onset of symptoms. It’s considered the most common type of inflammatory arthritis in the United States, and is caused by a buildup of uric acid in the body that results in an accumulation of painful crystals in joints and other tissues.

However, gout tends to first develop in one joint at a time, only becoming more widespread with repeated flare-ups. You may experience symptoms for 3 to 14 days at a time, followed by remission. During a flare-up, you may experience sudden and severe pain and swelling, as well as redness in the affected joint (erythema).

Autoimmune conditions

Autoimmune diseases develop when your immune system mistakenly attacks tissues and cells. There are at least 80 known types of autoimmune conditions that can affect different areas of the body. Some of these conditions may also cause widespread joint pain, such as:

  • psoriatic arthritis, which may develop in some people who have psoriasis
  • systemic lupus erythematous, which can also cause anemia, fever, and fatigue
  • rheumatoid arthritis, which starts in smaller joints such as the fingers, and then may become more widespread
  • polymyalgia rheumatica, which can cause pain and stiffness in your neck and upper arms, as well as your pelvis, hips, and thighs (often contributing to low back pain)


Fibromyalgia is another type of systemic, long-term condition with no single known cause. It’s known for causing widespread pain and stiffness in your body, and you may also have a lower pain tolerance.

Other symptoms of fibromyalgia may include:

  • fatigue
  • headaches
  • tingling in your hands or feet
  • digestive issues
  • brain fog
  • sleep problems
  • depression or anxiety

Contact a doctor if you’re experiencing widespread joint pain and stiffness without an infection, such as the flu. A doctor can help accurately diagnose your condition so you can get the right treatments.

On the flipside, if you think you have the flu or COVID-19, call a doctor if you’re:

  • experiencing severe symptoms
  • over the age of 65
  • pregnant
  • considered high risk due to a chronic health condition
Medical emergency

Call emergency medical services if you or a loved one is experiencing:

  • problems with breathing
  • pale, bluish-purple, or gray-tinted skin
  • chest pain
  • confusion
  • problems staying awake or alert

Treatment for joint pain and stiffness all over the body depends on its underlying cause. Options may include:

  • Antibiotics: Such prescription medications may be recommended to clear up bacterial infections related to reactive arthritis or possible complications from a viral infection.
  • Antiviral treatments: These may be prescribed to help shorten the duration of the flu or COVID-19 infections, particularly in older adults or anyone who may be at risk of developing serious complications.
  • Corticosteroids: Intended to reduce inflammation, these may be prescribed for various autoimmune conditions as well as severe short-term infections.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): Used to help treat pain and inflammation, a doctor may recommend over-the-counter or prescription NSAIDs to help treat pain associated with gout, autoimmune diseases, acute infections, and other conditions such as fibromyalgia.
  • Uricosuric medications: These are prescribed to help remove uric acid in the body if you have gout.
  • Biologics: Biologics such as interleukin 6 (IL-6) inhibitors may be an option for severe polymyalgia rheumatica, but their higher cost may be a prohibitive factor.

Sudden, and widespread joint pain may be related to a number of causes. These include short-term illnesses, such as the flu, as well as more long-term health conditions such as autoimmune diseases.

A medical professional can help you determine the cause of widespread joint pain that doesn’t improve on its own within a few days. You should also seek medical attention right away if you’re experiencing serious symptoms, such as breathing difficulties or chest pain.