Joint Pain – Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

joint pain

Pain, aches and inflammation around the body can be a sign of joint health conditions. Joint pain is a common condition that can affect anyone, but typically those over 40 years old.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 15 million adults suffer from severe joint pain. There are more people across the world which suffer with mild joint pain, whilst the rest suffer severe pain which can sometimes cause immobility. 

Joint pain can be caused by a variety of factors from medical conditions such as arthritis to aging and lifestyle choices. Although joint pain is unpredictable and in some cases, unpreventable, it is important to be aware of the symptoms, causes and risk factors in order to detect it early to reduce or inhibit pain and inflammation. 

This article will cover the causes of joint pain, symptoms, diagnostic methods and treatments to help reduce the symptoms:

What is Joint Pain?

Joint pain is soreness, pain or inflammation in areas of the body where your bones meet. Parts of the body that typically experience joint part include your elbows, shoulders, knees, fingers, toes and hips.

Joints are what aid movement and provide your bones with support. When they become painful or damaged, this will eventually decrease the ability to move them properly or without pain.

In most cases, joint pain is a result of injury or arthritis. For older people, sometimes joint pain is a sign of osteoarthritis which can affect one joint or several. Joint pain affects around one in three people worldwide but comes more common with age.

If the pain is acute it typically lasts a short period of time. With chronic joint pain, this typically lasts long term or indefinitely. The diagnosis of the joint pain will indicate how long it may last. 

With joint pain being a very common problem, it is important to know what can cause it:

Causes of Joint Pain

Although the most common causes of joint pain are arthritis and injury, there are numerous other factors that can encourage acute or chronic joint pain. Joint pain can occur from health conditions or something as common as multiple injuries or overuse of the same area.

First, we will discuss the most common causes and how they initiate joint pain.

Arthritis

The most common cause of joint pain is arthritis, usually osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. The primary type of arthritis is osteoarthritis and according to the American College of Rheumatology people most likely to develop osteoarthritis are those over 40 years old.

Osteoarthritis typically affects the wrists, hands, kips and knees and is due to the disintegration of cartilage. The cartilage surrounding the joints acts as a cushion and without this, the joints have no protection against shock and movement. Overtime, this will cause the joints to rub together which can cause discomfort. 

The second most common form of arthritis is rheumatoid arthritis, which affects over 1.5 million in the USA every year. The Arthritis Foundation reports that of these 1.5 million, rheumatoid arthritis affects women more than men. 

Rheumatoid arthritis deforms the joints overtime and causes inflammation, pain and a fluid buildup which attacks the joints. This typically occurs in the hands, wrists and feet. 

Injury

Injury of the joints – knees, wrists, hands and feet – can be a cause of joint pain. Typically, the joint pain will be acute after injury. Then, years after joint pain can develop as a consequence of the previous injury, especially if injury to the area occurred more than once.  

Injury that causes arthritis is known as post-traumatic arthritis. Typically, arthritis develops many years after the injury occurs and happens due to break down of the cartilage over time. According to a study, 12% of patients who suffer with post-traumatic arthritis due to injury develop into osteoarthritis. This will mean the pain, discomfort and aches will become more severe and long term.

Overuse of a joint can weaken it and overtime this can make it prone to injury. A weak joint is likely to disintegrate overtime and can cause the surrounding tissue to wear away, which will cause joint pain.

Sometimes, overuse of the joint can encourage people to become prone to injury as overtime the joint will weaken. This can lead to arthritis which will then cause the joint pain. Injury causing joint pain works like a domino effect. 

Other causes of joint pain, typically less common, include:

  • Bursitis (inflammation of the cushioning pads around joints)
  • Lupus 
  • Gout 
  • Infectious diseases (mumps, influenza, and hepatitis)
  • Breakdown of the cartilage in the kneecap
  • Bleeding into the joint caused by blood thinners like Warfarin
  • Tendinitis (inflammation of the tendon)
  • Infection of the bone or joint
  • Cancer
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Osteoporosis 
  • Sarcoidosis 
  • Rickets 

There are many causes of joint pain, some preventable whilst most are unavoidable. Seeing as joint pain can be caused from various lifestyle experiences and/or medical conditions, it is essential to be aware how to recognise symptoms early as a sign of joint pain: 

Symptoms of Joint Pain

Symptoms of joint pain are very easy to recognise as the patient will experience discomfort, pain, aches and/or throbbing on or around joints. Sometimes the pain can be short term or sometimes it can last months or years. 

Symptoms typically include:

  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Fever with pain on/around the joint
  • Continuous dull throbbing
  • Aches
  • Discomfort on/around the joint
  • Deformation of the joint

Acute joint pain is easy to recognise and symptoms are less severe that chronic joint pain. For example, symptoms such as inflammation can be easily recognisable and if mild, can be easy to treat. Medications and supplements can help with mild symptoms like this. Read more on an inflammation reducing supplement, Green Lipped Mussel.

Sometimes the pain can be dealt with at home, with medications and supplements, but if it becomes more severe, or you experience the following, you should consult a doctor:

  • Swelling and tenderness around the joint
  • Severe redness 
  • Warm tender joints
  • If the pain is longer than three or more days
  • Slight fever, but not the flu

When a patient experiences the above symptoms, it can be a sign of chronic joint pain as opposed to acute and will need immediate medical examination to prevent it from worsening. Treating joint pain early may help limit the severity and longevity. 

If a person experiences severe pain, a deformed joint, a serious injury or complete immobility of the joint, they should go to the hospital emergency room immediately rather than a doctor. These will likely be a more serious condition of joint pain and will need urgent attention and treatment. 

Pain in more than one joint can be a sign of rheumatoid or psoriatic arthritis, lupus or hepatitis. It is best to seek a medical examination by your doctor to detect if and what condition is causing pain, aches or discomfort in several joints at once.

On the topic of joint pain being a sign of further medical complications, here is more on risk factors and consequences:

Risks Factors and Consequences of Joint Pain

Joint pain can be mild or severe and depending on the cause, it can induce some consequences and risks. 

Most consequences come from previous injuries. If you have experienced an injury to the joint, or multiple, this can lead to joint pain and arthritis later on in life. Although the injury may be short term, it can increase the chance of joint pain in years to come. 

A long term consequence of joint pain is immobility. Severe arthritis can cause your joints to become hard to use or in the worst cases, unusable. Sometimes arthritis can cause joints to become deformed which makes them difficult to use. 

On the other hand, risks of joint pain equate from lifestyle choices and age.

Sometimes, joint pain can lead to excessive weight gain due to pressure on the joints which causes them to inflame. Weak joints can decrease a person’s mobility and therefore exercise. 

Similarly, joint pain can be caused due to being overweight. The weight on the joints can cause abrasion and pressure overtime, especially on the knees. Then as a result of that, the joints will swell and be painful.

Another lifestyle risk is stress. Stress can induce joint pain as it can cause inflammation which can be in the joints, as well as other parts of the body. Swelling of the joints from inflammation will cause pain. 

Your occupation can lead to joint pain overtime. Those who work in hard labour jobs such as gardening, carpentry, building and similar, may develop pain due to stress and pressure on the joints. Typically, osteoarthritis is a result of hard labour, especially in the knees. 

Smoking can also increase the risk of a person developing joint pain. This bad lifestyle habit can increase the risk of rheumatoid arthritis and can also make the disease worse if a person starts the habit after getting the condition. Smoking can also prevent a person’s physical ability, which is an important lifestyle choice to keep up regularly.  

All of the above risks are preventable and irreversible, unlike age. Age is another high risk factor of developing joint pain. People under the age of 40 rarely experience arthritic conditions. Then after 40 years old, it can be common to develop symptoms of arthritis or general joint pain. This can be due to lack of exercise, hard labour or general aging. 

If lifestyle choices you are making are included here, to reduce the risk of joint pain it is advised to reduce your habit or stop completely. To seek help regarding these lifestyle choices, you can seek help from a doctor.

If you are experiencing joint pain and looking for a diagnosis, here are the most recommended methods:

Diagnosis of Joint Pain

A doctor diagnosis of joint pain is essential for those whose joint pain persists. The doctor will provide an appointment to assess the affected area and ask a series of questions to rule out any potential causes.

In some cases, an x-ray will be performed to assess if the patient has arthritis and to distinguish what type of arthritis it is and the severity of it. 

If the cause is difficult to diagnose, a blood test can be done to examine if there are underlying autoimmune issues.

Another method doctors can use is a sedimentation rate test which measures the level of inflammation of the affected area and your blood cell count. 

Research suggests that depending on the severity of the joint pain and the patient’s answers, the doctor will choose the appropriate diagnostics method. 

For those who have mild acute joint pain that lasts just a few days can be self diagnosed and treated at home. Medical and at home treatments are discussed further below:

Treatments for Joint Pain

There are numerous treatments for joint pain and they depend on type of joint pain, preference of method, severity and cause of pain. 

After the doctor has diagnosed the condition, the correct treatment method will be recommended. The methods range from at home care treatments, lifestyle choices and exercises to medications, therapies and surgeries.

Although the most common causes of joint pain, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, are not completely curable nor possible to eliminate with medication, there are several ways to reduce the symptoms, pain and long term consequences.

Treatment options include:

At Home Care

Home treatments can be anything the doctor advises. This can include easy over the counter medications and/or ointments, lifestyle changes and pain relieving techniques. We will run through the different home care methods that may be useful at reducing the pain:

Over the counter medications 

Anti-inflammatory tablets, known as NSAIDs,  are often recommended to relieve pain and reduce swelling of the joints. This includes aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen. These three medications are recommended as they are all safe and free from harmful side effects, if taken abiding by the respected doses. 

In recent years, an NSAID medication, known as COX-2 inhibitors, were retracted from the market as a pain relief for joints. Celebrex was a popular COX-2 inhibitor that relieves pain effectively but research and reports found that it can increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes. 

Therefore, it is advised to stick to the other three over the counter medications (NSAID) in order to guarantee safety and limit risks. 

Other over the counter medication options include muscle relaxants and antidepressants. Both can equally relieve pain by relaxing the muscles and reducing the stress and pressure that inflammation can cause.

Supplements are also recommended for mild joint pain or to reduce risk of getting joint pain. Popular options include omega and fish oils due to their anti-inflammatory benefits. Read more about supplements for joint pain and inflammation in our articles – Omega XL, Fish Oil benefits and Green Lipped Mussel. 

Topical Ointments

Another popular at home care method are topical ointments. The most popular and effective ointment on the market are those that contain capsaicin. This active ingredient works to relieve aching joints. Capsaicin is a substance found in red chilli peppers and is manufactured into ointments for its pain relieving effects. 

Capsaicin works by blocking the pain signals, known as substance P, and triggers endorphins to be released in the body. Endorphins are natural pain relievers and are typically released through exercise. 

As those with severe joint pain and aches cannot or are advised not to exercise, capsaicin can release endorphins without exercise. 

The ointments work by simply massaging them onto the area which is causing pain or aches.

Lifestyle changes

Doctors can recommend a few lifestyle choices that can help relieve pain and sometimes reverse the joint pain effect. 

Staying physically active and exercising regularly can help inhibit the development of general joint pain and/or arthritis. If you are experiencing mild joint pain or aches, stretching prior to exercise will help the mobility of the joints. If you cannot exercise, gentle stretching is advised to loosen the joints. 

Maintaining a healthy body weight is advised as being overweight is a high risk factor. A balanced diet and regular exercise will help maintain a healthy body weight, body fat mass and BMI. Less stress on the joints will help prevent or reduce joint pain.

If you experience joint pain suddenly or dull aches overtime, it is important to relax when you can. Warm bath, massages and rest can be effective at reducing the pain as it relaxes the muscles and joints. 

Pain relieving techniques

A simple technique often advised as a home care treatment is known as PRICE. This involves:

  • Protect – wrapping the affected area will prevent overstretching/overusing the joint
  • Rest – avoid anything that can cause stress to the joint
  • Ice – 15 minutes of putting ice on the joint several times a day can relieve pain
  • Compress – use an elasticated wrap to compress the joint
  • Elevate – elevate the joint above your heart to reduce swelling

This pain relieving technique is often recommended for short term pain or those who experience sudden pain. It is important to practice this routine if pain does appear.

Prescribed Medications

For those who do not find a reduction in pain or symptoms with at home care methods will need to be prescribed medications and doctor treatment to help further. 

Steroid injections are usually the next step after at home care methods. These are injected into the joints every few months and works to relieve pain. These are typically used for arthritis patients. 

Other injections include removing fluid from the joint to reduce swelling or an injection to add fluid to the joints where fluid has decreased. 

For those who need prescribed medications, here a few of the most popular and effective:

  • Disease modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) – these are typically prescribed to rheumatoid arthritis patients. They work by slowing the immune system from attacking your joints. The most common are methotrexate and hydroxychloroquine.
  • Biologic response modifiers – these are often prescribed alongside DMARDs as they work together in order to improve the immune response. Biologic response modifiers contain proteins that mobilise the immune system to respond to joint pain and reduce the risk. These can reduce the risk of joint pain or reduce inflammation. Common biologic response modifiers include etanercept and infliximab. 
  • Corticosteroids – this form of prescribed medication contains cortisone and prednisone which work to suppress the immune system and reduce inflammation. These can be taken orally or injected.

Prescribed medications are usually more effective due to their high concentration of pain relieving ingredients. They are usually only provided to a patient when experiencing severe pain or arthritis.

Therapies 

There are many therapy methods used for joint pain. All are natural methods and can be recommended or chosen depending on the patients needs and preferences. These natural methods include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Tai chi 
  • Massage
  • Yoga 
  • Meditation 
  • Unit therapy that uses electrodes (TENS)

Therapies are often advised to use alongside medications in order to encourage the reduction of inflammation and pain. 

Surgeries

If joint pain becomes so severe that the joint becomes completely immobile, then surgery is often suggested. Typically, it would be arthritic patients that would recommend surgeries and is usually for those above the age of 60. Surgeries include:

  • Joint repair – joints can be smoothed or resurfaced to improve function
  • Joint replacement – replacements involve removing the damaged joint and replacing with a new one. Typically the knees or hips
  • Joint fusion –  fusion of the joint is done by removing the ends of the two bones that join and fusing them together so they heal as one unit. This is often advised for smaller joints such as wrists, ankles and fingers. 

Treatment methods can be advised by doctors and will be based on area of joint pain, severity and cause. Treatment methods will differ from person to person and two methods can often be done together to maximise treatment and reduction of pain and inflammation. 

Due to joint pain being very common, there are many frequently asked questions which may answer some further concerns or queries:

FAQ

Can joint pain be a sign of cancer?

There are a few cancers that have joint pain as early symptoms. This includes bone cancer, leukemia and myelodysplastic syndromes. Studies show that these cancers can cause bone and/or joint pain. Joint pain does not necessarily indicate early signs of cancer but if they persist, it is important to get them assessed by a doctor for diagnosis.

What disease makes all of your joints hurt?

Pain in several joints can indicate the early stages of chronic joint conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis. Joint pain can be acute and be a sign of gout but generally, pain in several joints will be caused by arthritic conditions.

How to quickly relieve joint pain?

If a joint becomes suddenly inflamed and painful, the most advised treatment is known as hot and cold therapy. A swollen joint can be reduced with frozen bags or towels. Alternatively, a warm electric blanket can be used overnight to loosen the joints. 

For medication that can offer quick relief, painkillers can be used. If pain persists, seek medical assessment. 

What is the best vitamin to take for joint pain?

The most effective vitamin for joint pain is vitamin D and glucosamine. They have been scientifically studied and have proven to show the best results by the Arthritis Foundation. Both improve musculoskeletal strength and overall mobility of the joints.

Vitamin D is essential for bone strength and is the vitamin closely associated with bone health. 

Glucosamine is a fatty acid which works to cushion the joints. It can also relieve pain symptoms and stiffness. 

Is coffee good for arthritis?

There is a great debate as to whether coffee increases the risk of developing arthritis or not. Studies show that caffeine, found in coffee, has been tested to see if it can reduce the calcium content and strength in the bones, which overtime will cause them to weaken and cause joint conditions. 

Some evidence suggests that coffee is a natural anti-inflammatory which can benefit inflammation conditions such as arthritis. There is not yet enough evidence to say if it is good or bad, but it is advised to limit your intake and not assume it can inhibit arthritis.

Why do all of my joints hurt suddenly?

Sudden joint pain is often known as acute, as it could be caused by short term lifestyle experiences such as exercise. 

However, sometimes sudden joint pain over the body can be caused by septic arthritis. Septic arthritis is caused by an inflammation of the joints due to bacteria or fungi in the bloodstream. This is typically acute as it is rarely chronic, however sudden joint pain may be a sign of septic arthritis.

What does lupus joint pain feel like?

Lupus joint pain is usually symmetrical and will occur on both sides of the body in the same areas. Generally, this will be in the wrists, hands, fingers, and knees. The areas will inflame and feel warm to touch.

Is there a virus that attacks the joints?

There are several viruses that can cause inflammation, especially in the joints. This includes rubella, mumps, hepatitis B and C, which are known as parvoviruses. These viruses cause viral arthritis which is what attacks the joints and causes inflammation, pain and aches. Studies show that viral arthritis typically in sudden, short term and does not reoccur.

What foods should you avoid for joint pain?

Foods that cause inflammation are ones that should be avoided to reduce the risk of joint pain. This includes sugary, processed, high-fat, high-carbs and refined foods such as:

  • Pre-packaged/frozen meals
  • Fried food
  • Refined grains – white bread, pasta and crackers
  • Cheese
  • High-fat dairy 
  • Oils
  • Chocolate
  • Candy
  • Red meat
  • Alcohol 

Avoiding these foods will not inhibit the chance of joint pain but will lower the risk of developing inflammation in the body that can cause joint pain and conditions.

With that in mind, here are our final thoughts on joint pain:

Conclusion

Although joint pain can be caused by age, lifestyle and genetics, it is most commonly induced by arthritis. These lifestyle factors can indeed heighten the risk of developing arthritis as much as they can cause general pain and inflammation of the joints. 

For all types of joint pain, there are numerous effective treatment options that suit the severity, cause and individual person. At home treatments can be as effective as prescribed medications and therapies, especially if the joint condition is detected early. For treatment options, it is best to seek professional advice to ensure you are receiving the appropriate and most effective treatment for your joint pain.  

If pain persists longer than a few days or becomes unbearable in a short space of time, it is highly advised to see a doctor for examination and a full diagnosis. Early detection of joint pain can reduce impact and sometimes inhibit long term conditions and/or consequences. 

If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to share them with us. 

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