What is Joint Pain?
Joint pain (arthralgia) describes any discomfort, pain or inflammation felt in joints in the body. Joints are places where two or more bones connect like the knee, shoulder, hip, elbow and jaw.
There are various parts that make up a joint. The cartilage prevents the bones rubbing against each other whilst ligaments join bones together. Tendons join muscles to the bone and these two both help the joint move. (1)
Joint pain is usually the result of injury or disease and these include:
A bone can break as a result of an injury caused by a car accident or a fall. It can also break as result of a stress injury from using it repeatedly in the same way, like running.
Fractures can be small hairline breaks in the bones, or they could be completely shattered. Either will result in pain in the affected joint. (2)
Soft Tissue Injuries
Injury to the soft tissue in the joints will give rise to pain and discomfort. These could affect the tendons, ligaments or bursae (small fluid sacs that cushion joints).
Sprains are when a ligament is overstretched or torn and most often occurs in the ankle, wrist or knee. You might twist your knee, turn over on your ankle or put your wrist out to stop a fall.
Strains are injuries to the tendons or muscles and again it can be overstretched, partially or fully torn. These injuries are common in people that play various sports, especially contact sports or those that require fast acceleration. Sports where grip or throwing are key can cause hand or elbow strains.
Direct or repeated blows might cause bruising to a muscle or soft tissue which will be uncomfortable or painful.
Tendinitis describes repeated stress which causes inflammation and irritation in a tendon. The affected joint will be swollen and painful and may get worse the more you use it. Again it can affect people who partake in sports like swimming, tennis, golf, and soccer, as well as people who do aerobics.
Bursitis occurs in small fluid filled pockets located in joints between bones and soft tissues to act as cushions reducing friction. Stresses as a result of repeated overuse of a joint can mean inflammation in the bursae resulting in pain and swelling. (3)
Rheumatoid arthritis and lupus are diseases which both affect the immune system.
Lupus causes inflammation throughout the body as a result of the immune system not working normally. It can flare from time to time and then there can be periods when no symptoms will be experienced. Pain and swelling in the joints can be felt as part of this condition. (4)
Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease in which the immune system attacks healthy tissues in the joints. Pain and swelling will be felt and the joints can eventually become deformed and damaged. (5)
This metabolic condition happens when there is a build up of uric acid in the blood, tissues and joints. It causes small crystals to form which collect mainly in the joint, causing heat and pain to be felt. The joint can also be red and swollen.
Instances of gout can come on quite quickly and usually last for one to two weeks. It can reoccur weeks, months or years later but chronic recurrences should be treated. (6)
This degenerative disease is a chronic condition of the joints and affects about 27 million people in the US. It can involve any joint in the body but mainly happens in the knees, hips, hands, neck and lower back.
Osteoarthritis interferes with the cartilage in the joints which normally provides a smooth cushioned surface for the bones to move. This condition breaks down the cartilage reducing movement resulting in pain and swelling.
This progressive disease eventually wears away the cartilage and bones end up rubbing against each other worsening damage and pain. (7)
This arthritis is caused by bacteria, most commonly staphylococcus, travelling from elsewhere in the body via the bloodstream to joints. It might also be the result of viral or fungal infections, or infection entering joints from a wound or after surgery.
Extreme pain will be felt accompanied by swelling and possibly fever or chills. (8)
Osteomyelitis is an bacterial infection in the bones contracted from somewhere else in the body. It could local infection, the result of a fracture needing surgery or the fitting of a prosthetic.
Pain, fever, chills and inflammation of the affected joint are all signs of this condition. (9)
Fibromyalgia, whilst sometimes considered arthritis related, is not a type of arthritis. It causes pain in the joints and soft tissue but does not inflame or damage the joints. (10)
Infection in the bladder, vagina, urethra or sexually transmitted infections are the main cause of this type of arthritis. It can also present following infections in the gastrointestinal region.
It causes pain and swelling in joints and might be accompanied by a swollen urinary tract and swollen, red eyes. (11)
Some people which have the skin condition psoriasis develop this long term form of arthritis. Joints which are affected are swollen, painful and stiff. (12)
Certain viruses are associated with arthritic joint pain. These include HIV, hepatitis, parvovirus and rubella. (13, 14)
The main symptom associated with any of these conditions is pain in any joints in the body. It could be anything from a mild ache to excruciating and incapacitating.
Often there might be swelling, stiffness and possibly reduced movement of the affected joints. You might also have fever and/or chills.
If the pain is unexplained, accompanied by other symptoms or severe then you should seek medical help.
On occasions the cause of joint pain will be obvious, particularly following an injury or accident. Diagnosis from a medical professional will be straightforward and treatment can be administered.
However, if you have joint pain which is unexplained or sudden then more investigation will be required.
A doctor will take a full medical and personal history and also will give you a physical examination. They will manipulate and feel around the affected joint.
Blood and urine tests can be done to try and identify any underlying causes for pain in the joints. They might also want to request imaging tests like x-rays, CT scans or MRI scans. (15)
What is joint pain? Joint pain (arthralgia) describes any discomfort, pain or inflammation felt within joints in the body. It could be a mild ache or be excruciating and incapacitating.
What causes joint pain? There are many reasons why we might experience joint pain. Injuries or accidents can lead to damage of the joints and cause pain. There are also other conditions, bacteria and diseases which affect the joints and consequently pain is the result.
How do doctors test for joint pain? Following injury or accident, the cause of pain might be obvious, if not then blood and urine tests can help with diagnosis. Imaging scans to see what is happening in the affected joint can also be done.
When should you go to the doctor with joint pain? Minor sprains and strains will likely resolve themselves without medical intervention. However if your pain is severe, unexplained, sudden or causing you any concern, seek medical advice.
Can you prevent joint pain? Diseases, infections and other conditions cannot be prevented. There are things you can do to try and reduce the incidence of sports injuries. Make sure you do warm up and cool down exercises and wear proper fitting, shock absorbing footwear. Avoid running on asphalt or concrete if you can, and don’t do too much. To protect your knee joint make sure you don’t bend them beyond 90 degrees and land with knees bent when you jump. (16)
What can relieve joint pain? Dependent on the cause, there are medications, whether over the counter or prescription, which help alleviate the symptoms of joint pain. Injuries can be helped by rest, applying ice, compression with elastic bandages or supports and elevating the affected joint. It might also be beneficial to immobilize the joint if it hurts, like wearing a sling for shoulder or arm injuries.
What natural remedies help arthritic joint pain? There are many things on the market which promise to ease the pain associated with arthritis. There are some things that have been proven to help: drinking green tea, eating plenty of fish and supplementing your diet with probiotics. Walking will help strengthen the muscles and give joints more support and flexibility. Swelling and pain can be reduced by rubbing an ice cube or something similarly cold on the affected joint. (17)
Can a chiropractor help with joint pain? Chiropractic medicine is an alternative which concentrates on the proper alignment and function of the musculoskeletal symptom. As well as manipulation it uses ultrasound, electrotherapy, cold level laser and infrared saunas to help with pain in joints. (18)
Joint pain can affect many parts of the body and vary from mild discomfort to severe incapacitating pain.
There are many causes of joint pain, and there are many treatments, both medical and natural that can help relieve the symptoms.
If your pain is unexplained or persistent then see a medical professional so diagnosis can be made and proper treatment obtained.