Joint Pain symptoms, causes and treatment

Joint pain is a common medical condition that people complain about as they grow old. Some people refer to joint pain as a clear sign of aging.  For many, the pain experience is related to various types of joint inflammation or arthritis. For others, the pain is non-arthritis related, such as an underactive thyroid or fibromyalgia.

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Generally, joint pain is the ache, discomfort or soreness in any of your body’s joints. It may be in your shoulders, elbows, hips, ankles or knees. Being a common complaint, most people who experience joint pain does not go to the hospital for their condition. In some instances, it may also be the result of an injury or illness.

Pain in the joints may range from mild to severe and vary in pain type from sharp or burning sensation in one or more joints. More so, this condition may also be associated with other symptoms such as stiffness and swelling of the joints, warm and red overlying skin and full-body symptoms like fever, weight loss, and fatigue. 

Causes of Joint Pain

There are several causes of joint pain. It is best to look into them in two separate classes. There is joint pain from arthritis-related causes, and there are non-arthritis related bursitis causes.

Arthritis-related joint pain is the most common. There are two primary forms of arthritis, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Osteoarthritis-is the most common type of arthritis. It develops due to age-related wear-and-tear of the cartilage that serves as a cushion between bones in a joint. It typically affects the knees, neck, lower back, hips, and bursitis on fingers.

Pain due to osteoarthritis tends to progress from sharp, irregular pain to a chronic aching which worsens with movement and eases when you rest. It is characterized by stiffness and a limited range of motion. Likewise, classic osteoarthritis is non-inflammatory, but there is a subtype called erosive OA, which is inflammatory. The erosive type is common in postmenopausal women and leads to a gradual start of joint pains, swelling in finger joints and stiffness.

Rheumatoid Arthritis – is an autoimmune and chronic disease such as immunodeficiency disorder that slowly develops from weeks to months. It predominantly affects joints, but early symptoms usually include weight loss, muscle pain, fatigue, tingling in the hands and numbness.

The joints become affected gradually, starting from the small joints on one side of the body like the fingers and toes. Soon, other joints like elbows, wrists, spine and hips follow. Likewise, you may also experience redness, warmth, stiffness and swelling. The stiffness is usually worse in the morning and improves when you start moving.

Gout – is a form of inflammatory arthritis that happens when you have high levels of uric acid in your blood. A build-up of uric acid will lead to the formation of crystals in joint spaces like the ankle, big toe and knee. The gout attack usually goes on a sudden occurrence of severe, burning pain in one joint. Often the pain is extreme with swelling, redness and warmth. Without treatment, gout flare can last from three days to two weeks.

Other arthritis-related conditions that cause joint pain include Spondyloarthritis, Reactive Arthritis, arthritis associated with inflammatory bowel disease, Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, polymyalgia rheumatica, systemic sclerosis, sarcoidosis and familial Mediterranea fever.

Non-arthritis related conditions also cause joint pain. These conditions are not related to any inflammatory process or underlying diseases.

  • Fibromyalgia – a significant symptom of this disease is chronic pain characterized by general muscle tenderness and crippling fatigue. Additionally, a patient may also experience joint aches or swelling, even without inflammation.
  • Hemarthrosis – a condition where there is bleeding in a joint due to trauma, hemophilia, tumor growth or post-surgical complications. The blood that goes into the joints causes swelling and pain.
  • Hypothyroidism – pertains to an underactive thyroid gland. It is characterized by various symptoms like constipation, weight gain, fatigue and joint stiffness or aches.
  • Depression – unexplained pains and aches such as joint pain may be a physical manifestation of depression. Other symptoms include sleep disturbances, changes in appetite, feelings of hopelessness.

Symptoms of Joint Pain

Joint pain pertains to any discomfort, aches and soreness in any joints in the body. It is a common condition that it does not necessarily warrant a hospital visit. Some symptoms of joint pain are swelling, redness, warmth and tenderness around the joint. If you feel intense anxiety leading to your inability to use the joint, there is a deformity or sudden swelling, call your doctor immediately.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnosis of joint pain starts with a physical examination. The doctor will inspect your joints for tenderness, pain, swelling, signs of warmth and bruises. Your doctor may also request for imaging tests including x-ray, magnetic resonance imaging, ultrasound and CT scans.

In case of a potential infection, you will need laboratory tests to determine the cause of pain. You may need to go for a blood test and arthrocentesis procedure. There may also be a need for sedimentation rate test to see the level of inflammation in the body.

Treatment of Joint Pain

Arthritis related to joint pain is considered chronic conditions. At present, no treatment will completely relieve or stop symptoms associated with arthritis joint pain. Fortunately, there are ways to manage the pain through home treatment. Here are some suggestions:

  • Follow a fitness plan or program that focus on moderate activity to stay active physically
  • Use topical pain relievers or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications to reduce inflammation, pain and swelling.
  • Stay within a healthy weight range. It will reduce stress on your joints.
  • Stretch before working out to keep a good range of motion
  • If your joint pain is not related to arthritis, you can get a massage, warm baths, get enough rest and stretch frequently.

Medical Treatment Options

Medical treatment of joint pain will depend on the cause of the condition. Doctors may test for infection, gout or other prevalent cause of the pain. In severe cases, you will need surgery to replace damaged joints.

Other options include medications coupled with lifestyle changes to cause your arthritis to go into remission. In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, the inflammation should be addressed first. Once it is in remission, your medical treatment should focus more on preventing flare-ups.

What are the normal conditions?

Joint pain is experienced when there is damage to the joints due to normal wear-and-tear. The most common cause of the pain is arthritis pain. On the other hand, it can also be due to an infection, inflammation or a sign of rheumatoid arthritis.

Generally, joint pain goes away on its own after a few days without medication. However, if you experience unexplained pain in your joints, especially if the pain does not lessen or go away in a few days, it is best to consult your doctor. Proper diagnosis and early detection of your condition will help for effective treatment of the cause for your pain.

Risks of Having Joint Pain

While a reasonably common condition, joint pain also have different factors that can increase your risk of experiencing it. Some behaviors and characteristics increase your likelihood of making your joint pain worse. Some risk factors can be controlled, but others are not. Here are some of the risk factors that you can control:

  • Obesity and Weight Gain
  • Infection
  • Joint Injuries
  • Occupation
  • Smoking

On the other hand, there are risk factors that you cannot control, here are those that you should look out for:

  • Aging – risks for having osteoarthritis and joint pain increase as you age 
  • Gender – most arthritis types are more common in women especially osteoarthritis, but gout is more prevalent in men.
  • Genetics and Inherited Traits – some people with specific genes are likely to have certain kinds of arthritis or make their condition worse.

When to Seek Medical Attention

While you must make an appointment with your doctor for any health problems, joint pain sometimes fades even before you make a schedule. If you don’t know the cause of your pain and there are unexplained symptoms with your joint problem, be sure to consult with your doctor. Some signs that you should not ignore are:

  • Pain that persists for more than three days
  • The red, swollen, tender or warm area around the joint
  • Fever without signs of flu
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Inability to function normal activities
  • Numbness or burning with muscle weakness

After evaluation of your joint pain condition, you must follow your treatment plan. It is also necessary for you to have follow-up medical check-up which may be requested by your doctor. Your test results will be reviewed, as well as the effect of your treatment plan. If you have other symptoms, further tests will be conducted.

Joint pain is preventable depending on its underlying cause. If you experience joint pain due to injury, you can prevent further damage with the right training and upon wearing protective gear. Maintaining an ideal weight will also lessen stress on joints. On the other hand, diseases and other risk factors like age or gender are not preventable. But with the right medical care and treatment program, chronic joint pain can be prevented.

Table of Medications

  • Celebrex
  • meloxicam
  • diclofenac
  • Mobic
  • naproxen
  • Voltaren Gel
  • Voltaren
  • ibuprofen
  • celecoxib
  • chondroitin / glucosamine