Joint Pain & Fever in Children

Fever and joint pain by themselves are common symptoms in children, but together can be signs of uncommon but potentially serious conditions. If your child has fever and joint pain, it is important to note when the symptoms began, if there was a recent illness or trauma and whether the joint pain is accompanied by redness or swelling.

Joint pain and swelling are signs of infection, trauma or inflammatory conditions.
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Certain characteristics distinguish benign conditions associated with joint pain and fever from those that are serious. For example, swelling, muscle weakness, stiffness of the joint and tenderness are all indications of a potentially serious condition. Benign conditions do not usually cause tenderness or weakness. If there is stiffness of the joint, it typically resolves with over-the-counter medicines and rest.


The most common causes of joint pain and fever in children are medical conditions such as a septic joint -- a bacterial infection of the joint fluid. Other conditions include Lyme arthritis -- a complication of Lyme disease in children, rheumatoid fever -- an inflammatory condition that can follow a strep throat infection and osteomyelitis -- a bacterial infection of the bones around the joint.


When evaluating your child with fever and joint pain, your doctor will determine which joint is involved. Children will often exhibit referred pain, which means that inflammation in one joint can be felt in another. For example, children can feel hip inflammation in the knee of the same side. Also, it is important to determine if only one joint is affected or if the condition involves multiple joints. This can narrow down the possible medical conditions associated with the symptoms.


The evaluation of your child with joint pain and fever involves X-rays and blood work. X-rays help determine if there is a fracture or other trauma. Common blood tests in the evaluation of a child with joint pain and fever include obtaining a complete blood count to see if the white blood cells -- cells that fight infections -- are elevated, blood cultures to detect the presence of bacteria in the blood that could be infecting the joint. Antigen levels, which can be elevated in certain autoimmune conditions like lupus and juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, are also checked.


The treatment of a child with joint pain and fever depends on the cause. Septic arthritis needs intravenous antibiotics and surgical drainage of the affected joint's fluid. Trauma may need surgical intervention or immobilization with a splint or cast. Inflammatory conditions like arthritis may need long-term over-the-counter or prescription strength anti-inflammatory medicines. If the pain and fever is chronic and there is permanent damage to the joint, physical therapy can help diminish the long-term effects of the inflammation.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
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