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 can not only ruin your day, but become a 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 is 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 Injury

Joint-related injuries can sneak up on you, with no pain until a day or two after the injury. Likewise, old injuries can flare up from time to time (when it gets cold, for example) and usually respond 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.

Musculoskeletal Issues

At times, pain that seems like it’s emanating from the 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 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 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

Sudden joint pain that occurs all over the body may signal the onset of a chronic condition, such as osteoarthritis, lupus or fibromyalgia, or even an infectious disease such as influenza or the mumps. 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.