Arthritis is one of the most common ailments among American adults. Over 20% (about 54 million people) suffer from some form of arthritis in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Arthritis can cause debilitating joint pain and is the leading cause of workplace disability according to the CDC, and accounts for over $100 billion in medical costs every year.

While osteoarthritis (the most common form of arthritis in the U.S.) is a common cause of joint pain, it’s not the only one. There are other factors that can cause short term joint pain that usually clears up without causing lasting damage to the joint.

The difference between acute joint pain and arthritis

Acute joint pain comes on suddenly and usually doesn’t result from an underlying condition or damage to the joint. Some of the possible causes of acute joint pain other than arthritis include:

  • Bursitis
  • Strains and sprains
  • Gout
  • Inflammation from trauma
  • Overuse

Depending on the underlying cause and severity, acute joint pain is usually treated with rest, icing, medication, and physical therapy if needed. Depending on the cause, acute joint pain usually clears up within a few weeks with self care and conservative treatment.

Signs and symptoms of arthritis

Chronic joint pain (long term pain that persists for weeks or months) may be a sign of arthritis and joint damage. There are over 100 different types of arthritis, the most common of which is osteoarthritis, which results from wear and tear on the joints over time.

Rheumatoid arthritis, another common form of arthritis, also causes joint damage and deterioration over time, but results from an autoimmune disorder where the immune system mistakenly attacks the joints.

Some of the signs and symptoms of arthritis-related joint pain include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Stiffness
  • Limited or decreased range of motion

It can be difficult to tell whether your joint pain is the result of temporary inflammation or arthritis. The Arthritis Foundation recommends that you keep track of your symptoms and if the pain and stiffness feels worse at a certain time of day, after physical activity or rest, and the duration of your symptoms.

If your symptoms last more than a few weeks, get progressively worse, or you develop other symptoms like a fever or a rash, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Know your risk factors

Anyone can develop arthritis, but some people may have a higher risk due to factors like age, family history, previous joint damage or injury, or underlying health problems like obesity.

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