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Causes of Sudden Joint Pain

author image Martin Hughes
Martin Hughes is a chiropractic physician, health writer and the co-owner of a website devoted to natural footgear. He writes about health, fitness, diet and lifestyle. Hughes earned his Bachelor of Science in kinesiology at the University of Waterloo and his doctoral degree from Western States Chiropractic College in Portland, Ore.
Causes of Sudden Joint Pain
A man is holding a painful shoulder joint.


Some medical conditions can cause joint pain to manifest suddenly. This pain may be caused by autoimmune conditions, infectious diseases, overuse injuries, trauma and degenerative conditions. Sudden joint pain can arise in one or multiple joints, and its intensity can range from mild to severe. In some cases, sudden joint pain can restrict a person's activities of daily living.

Septic Arthritis

Septic arthritis can cause sudden joint pain. This condition is an excruciatingly painful joint infection caused by bacteria or fungi. Bacterial infections are a more common cause of septic arthritis than fungal infections. Bacteria or fungi from other infected parts of the body can spread to a joint, although the bacteria may only target joints and leave other parts of the body unaffected. Septic arthritis is characterized by severe, sudden joint pain and damage in just one joint. This condition commonly develops in the knee, ankle, hip, shoulder, elbow and wrist. Common signs and symptoms of septic arthritis include severe pain when moving the affected joint, fever, joint swelling and warmth in the involved area. Elderly and very young people are at greatest risk for developing septic arthritis.


Systemic lupus erythematosus, or simply lupus, can cause sudden joint pain. Lupus is an autoimmune disease -- a person's immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues, causing inflammation and damage throughout the body. Lupus affects a person's joints, skin, blood vessels and certain internal organs. Common signs and symptoms of lupus include painful or swollen joints, muscle pain, fever, extreme fatigue, chest pain with deep inhalation and sun sensitivity. Many people with lupus also have red facial rash, known as a butterfly rash, on the nose and cheeks. Signs and symptoms of lupus vary from person to person.

Gouty Arthritis

Gouty arthritis can cause sudden joint pain. Gout is a type of arthritis that develops from the accumulation of uric acid crystals within a joint. Acute gout is a condition characterized by severe pain in just one joint. Chronic gout involves periodic bouts of joint pain and inflammation that may affect multiple joints. Common signs and symptoms of acute gouty attacks include sudden onset of symptoms in one or more joints, throbbing joint pain that begins during the night, joints that are red and warm to the touch and fever. Although gouty arthritis can occur anywhere throughout the body, although the joints of the big toe, knee and ankle are most commonly affected. It's not unusual for a person to go months or even years between bouts of gouty arthritis. If a person has had a gouty arthritis attack, there is a higher chance that he or she will have another attack.

Other Causes

Sometimes the cause of sudden joint pain is obvious, such as trauma or overuse of a particular body part. Osteroarthritis -- breakdown of cartilage that provides padding between joints in the body, can also cause sudden joint pain. Altered blood flow to a bone can cause osteonecrosis, or death of a bone, leading to sudden joint pain. Sickle cell anemia is a disease that causes a chronic shortage of red blood cells. Sickle cells also block blood flow in smaller blood vessels, causing sudden joint pain.

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