What Causes Sudden Joint Pain?

sudden joint pain

You’re out and about, your body feels great from head to toe, and then — seemingly out of nowhere — lightning strikes. Or, at least it feels that way. Sudden joint pain doesn’t just ruin your day: it can become a real cause for concern, especially if you’ve never experienced it before.

Unlike arthritis, which tends to worsen gradually over time, sudden joint pain can seemingly happen out of nowhere. It can affect one joint or all of them, and it’s often described as sharp and acute. But if you haven’t noticed anything starting to ache a little or knowingly injured yourself, where could the pain be coming from?

Here’s a look at some of the most common causes of sudden joint pain, how to treat them, and when to see a doctor.

Sudden Joint Pain from Injuries

Joint-related injuries can sneak up on you, with no pain at all until a day or two after the injury. Likewise, old injuries can flare up from time to time, especially when the weather changes suddenly (particularly when it gets cold, for example). This sort of joint pain usually responds well to anti-inflammatory medications, ice, and rest.

Joint pain due to a new injury, such as a break, sprain, or dislocation, can be severe and is often accompanied by bruising, swelling and, in some cases, joint deformity. Treatment will depend on the joint and degree of the injury, but a doctor’s care may be required.

Sudden Joint Pain from Musculoskeletal Issues

At times, pain that seems like it’s emanating from a joint is actually a problem with the ligaments, tendons, or muscles that surround it. Common conditions like tendinitis, bursitis, or muscle sprains can lead to pain in the joints, especially when they’re turned or stretched.

And, if musculoskeletal issues are at play, what feels like sudden onset might have been building up for a while, and something finally pushed it over the pain threshold. Conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome or repetitive stress injuries can start out behind the scenes before making themselves known.

Infections Can Cause Sudden Joint Pain

Joint pain may be one symptom of an infection and can begin within a few hours. This type of pain will likely also include redness, swelling, and the inability to move the joint. One common diagnosis is septic arthritis, which is usually caused by a bacterial infection. This type of infection can also be accompanied by fever, and requires immediate treatment in order to prevent permanent damage to the affected joints.

Gout and Sudden Joint Pain

Gout happens when the body produces too much uric acid, causing crystals to form in the joint’s lubricating fluid. It is most common in the ankle, big toe or the instep of the foot and is accompanied by redness and swelling. Anti-inflammatory medication can help control pain during a flare-up, and dietary changes may help reduce the risk of recurrence. Alcoholic beverages, foods such as organ meats, anchovies, asparagus or mussels, or those containing high fructose corn syrup can cause symptoms of gout to worsen.

Underlying Conditions That Can Cause Sudden Joint Pain

It’s always valuable to consult with a doctor, because sudden joint pain that occurs all over the body may signal the onset of certain chronic conditions. Here are some common ones.


The most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition in which the tissues in the joints slowly break down over time. It gets more common as people get older, but the symptoms can be managed through regular physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, and anti-inflammatory medication.


Over 95% of patients with lupus experience joint pain due to synovitis, the inflammation of the lining of the joints. The symptoms are usually somewhat similar to – though generally less severe than – those of rheumatoid arthritis.


Patients with fibromyalgia may experience joint pain, particularly a constant or intermittent dull ache in the neck, shoulders, knees, and hips. Unlike with arthritis or lupus, the pain isn’t caused by injury or inflammation but by issues with the general nervous system.

Infectious Diseases

Sudden joint pain can also be caused by an infectious disease such as influenza or the mumps. If you experience sudden joint pain while you’re sick with a fever, you should seek medical treatment right away to avoid lasting damage.

Exercises for Sudden Joint Pain

Getting good, healthy exercise is vital for your health, but certain high-impact and repetitive activities can lead to wear and tear on the joints over time and subsequent recurrent joint problems such as runner’s knee or tennis elbow.

That’s why, for healthy joints, you should focus on low-impact activities such as swimming, cycling, walking, and yoga; always take the time to warm up before and cool down after your exercise routine; and remember to stay hydrated at all times. Read our blog for more tips on keeping your joints healthy while you exercise.

Foods to Eat and Avoid for Sudden Joint Pain

Sticking to a healthy diet will help you reduce or control your joint pain. Seek out:

  • Foods that are rich in Vitamin C, such as lemons, oranges, and bell peppers
  • Foods that contain antioxidants, such as dark leafy greens like kale
  • Foods with omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, trout, and certain beans and nuts.

These foods all have anti-inflammatory effects that promote better joint health. Read our blog post for a more detailed explanation of foods to eat – and foods to avoid – for better joint health.

When to See a Doctor for Sudden Joint Pain

If at-home remedies like rest, exercise, and healthy lifestyle changes aren’t lessening your joint pain, it may be time to see a doctor. If your joints have started giving you trouble, our team of trained experts can help you get to the cause — and the right treatment — quickly. Schedule an appointment today and get started on the road back to feeling better.