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Joint Pain: Many Joints

By The Manual's Editorial Staff,

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Joints are places in your body where two bones come together, such as your wrists, elbows, shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles.

Joints also exist where you might not think, such as between the many bones in your feet, hands, pelvis, and spine.

  • Severe pain in more than one joint (often more than 5) is usually caused by a long-term joint disorder

  • Some diseases that cause joint pain may also cause rash, fever, eye pain, or mouth sores

What causes pain in many joints?

The causes for pain in many joints usually are different than those for pain in a single joint.

Pain in many joints is usually caused by:

  • Arthritis

Arthritis is joint inflammation that causes swelling, pain, and stiffness in the joints. The causes of the arthritis are different depending on whether the joints started hurting suddenly (acutely) or have been hurting for a long time (chronic).

Sudden (acute) arthritis in more than one joint is most often caused by:

  • Infection from a virus

  • The start of a joint disorder or a flare up of a long-term joint disorder (such as rheumatoid arthritis)

Less common causes include:

Chronic arthritis in more than one joint is caused by:

The most common disorders outside the joints that cause pain around the joints include:

When should I see a doctor for pain in many joints?

See a doctor right away if you have joint pain in more than one joint and these warning signs:

  • Joint swelling, warmth, and redness

  • New skin rashes, spots, or purple blotches

  • Sores in your mouth, nose, or on your genitals

  • Chest pain, trouble breathing, or new or severe cough

  • Pain in your belly

  • Fever, sweats, or chills

  • Eye redness or pain

Call a doctor if you have joint pain in many joints but no warning signs.

What will happen at my doctor’s visit?

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history and do a physical exam.

Certain symptoms can help the doctor decide what is causing your joint pain. These symptoms include whether the pain:

  • Is in the same joint on both sides of your body (for example, both knees or both hands)

  • Moves from joint to joint

  • Is in your spine and/or pelvis

Doctors may do tests such as:

  • Tests of joint fluid—doctors take fluid out of one of your joints with a needle and send it for tests

  • Blood tests

  • Imaging tests, usually x-rays but sometimes CT scan or MRI

How do doctors treat pain in many joints?

Doctors will treat the disorder that causes your joint pain. For example, if you have an autoimmune disorder (when your body's immune system causes the body to attack its own tissues), you may need medicine to calm down your immune system.

Doctors may also treat your joint pain with:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

  • Acetaminophen

  • A splint or sling

  • Applying heat or cold

  • Physical therapy

Exercise (such as walking or riding a bike) helps keep the joints loose and your muscles strong if you have long-term arthritis.

Drugs Mentioned In This Article

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  • TYLENOL