Hesperian Health Guides

Chapter 15: Painful Joints

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HealthWiki > Disabled Village Children > Chapter 15: Painful Joints


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Joint pain in children has many causes. Depending on the cause, different treatments may be needed. The chart that follows will help you decide what the cause of chronic (long-lasting) joint pain in a child might be. However, other less common causes may also be possible. Sometimes laboratory tests may be needed to be more certain.

Specific treatment is needed for certain kinds of joint pain—especially those caused by infection. However, some basic principles of care and therapy apply to most joint pain, regardless of the cause. Following the chart of causes, you will find some general guidelines for the care of joint pain. These guidelines are described in more detail in Chapter 16 on juvenile arthritis.

Three chapters on disabilities with joint pain are “Juvenile Arthritis” (Chapter 16), “Rheumatic Fever” (Chapter 17), and “Hip Problems” (Chapter 18). However, arthritis (joint pain and damage) can occur with any disability where paralysis or muscle imbalance cause abnormal positions or twisting of joints. Many children with polio develop painful dislocations or, when they are older, arthritis.

Note: The chart does not include the many infectious diseases that may cause temporary joint pain. These do not usually lead to long-term disabilities. For details of diagnosis and treatment of illnesses that cause temporary joint pain, consult a health worker or see a medical text such as Where There Is No Doctor.


CAUTION! Try not to confuse similar illnesses. Two of the most common causes of joint pain in children are rheumatic fever and juvenile arthritis. Even some doctors and health workers get them mixed up and diagnose juvenile arthritis as rheumatic fever. The two illnesses do have similarities. However, rheumatic fever almost always follows a period of sore throat with fever. If the child did not have a sore throat, probably the joint pain is not due to rheumatic fever. When in doubt, however, 10 days of penicillin may be a wise precaution. See information on doses of penicillin.

Carefully study the differences between the common causes of joint pain. If you are not sure, seek help from someone with more experience.



This page was updated:19 Jan 2018