Arthralgia (Child)

Arthralgia is swollen and painful joints. This is a symptom, not a condition. One or more joints may be affected at the same time. The pain may be caused by a problem in the joint itself or a problem in another area. Arthralgia is not the same as arthritis pain.

There are many causes of joint pain in children. Common causes include growing pains, overuse or a sports injury, or a bacterial infection. Chickenpox, mumps, the flu, or other viruses may also cause joint pain. Some autoimmune disorders (such as rheumatoid arthritis) can cause joint pain and must be ruled out.

A thorough exam is needed to find the cause of the arthralgia. Several tests may be done. These include lab tests or imaging tests. Fluid may be removed from the painful joint for testing. Depending on the age of the child, anesthesia may be needed for this procedure. If the cause of the joint pain is still uncertain, the child may be referred to a specialist for evaluation.

Medicine may help ease the pain and swelling. Arthralgia may go away on its own, without further treatment.

Home care

  • The healthcare provider may prescribe medicine for pain and swelling. Follow the instructions for giving these medicines to your child.

  • Have your child rest the sore joint as needed. Apply ice wrapped in a thin towel or a cool compress as needed. For children 1 year and older, propping up the sore joint on a pillow may be most comfortable. Don't use pillows or other soft items with a baby younger than 12 months. 

  • Allow your child to resume normal activities when he or she feels able.

  • Have your child drink plenty of fluids and eats healthy foods. Ask your child's healthcare provider to recommend a healthy diet.

  • Keep track of the time of day the child complains of joint pain. Pain may be more frequent in the morning, afternoon, or evening. This information may help your doctor make a diagnosis.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your child's healthcare provider, or as advised. If you have been referred to a specialist, schedule that appointment promptly.

When to seek medical advice

Unless your child's healthcare provider advises otherwise, call the provider for any of the following:

  • Fever with joint pain or swelling: (see Fever and children, below) 

    • Rectal or forehead (temporal artery) temperature of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher

    • Armpit temperature of 99°F (37.2°C) or higher

  • Pain does not improve in 3 days after starting pain medicine

  • Swelling, redness, or warmth at the joint that continues or gets worse, even with treatment (rest, ice, compression, and elevation)

  • Trouble moving the affected joint or refusal to bear weight or walk

  • Pain in other joints

  • Loss of interest in normal activities

  • Weight loss

  • Skin changes, such as a leathery look

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