Joint Pain Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Learn what causes joint pain and how you can manage it.

Select a Topic

  1. What is Joint Pain?
  2. Diagnosing Joint Pain
  3. What Causes Joint Pain?
  4. Help for Joint Pain

What is Joint Pain?

Joint pain is a condition characterized by aches, soreness and discomfort in the joints. Joints are the parts of the body where bones meet and allow movement, such as the knee, shoulder, hip and elbow. Because they facilitate movement, joints are sensitive to injury and excess physical pressure.

Painful joints can be the result of an injury, illness, arthritis or other factors. Depending on the cause, pain may persist for a few weeks (acute) or last for months or years (chronic).

Pain, stiffness, swelling and tenderness is common, especially in the knee, shoulder and hip. Many different conditions can cause pain and swelling in joints, including gout, bursitis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), osteoarthritis, Lyme Disease and injuries. Pain and limited range of motion can become more common as the body ages.

Symptoms of Joint Pain

If you don’t know the cause of your discomfort or have other unexplained signs and symptoms, seek medical treatment. If the area appears inflamed or pain lasts longer than three days, contact your doctor.

Common signs of joint inflammation:

  • Pain with movement
  • Warmth
  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Tenderness 

Diagnosing Joint Pain

Joint aches and pains affect all age groups. Children, adults and the elderly are all at risk for joint injury. Athletes are at higher risk due to sports injuries. Older adults can suffer from weakened bone strength. People who are overweight or obese may also experience knee pain and ankle pain from carrying extra body weight.

Pain in the joints is a symptom, not a diagnosis. It’s important to determine what is causing the pain in order to set the best course of treatment. To locate the root of the problem, your doctor may do a physical examination, medical history, X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), bone scans and blood or urine tests.

What Causes Joint Pain?

There are many different causes. Broad categories include injury, disease, degeneration, fractures or stress from overuse. Tendon or ligament tears, strains, sprains, pulls, cartilage damage, connective tissue disorders, tumors and steroid withdrawal are also joint pain causes.

Some women experience knee and hip pain during pregnancy, which usually resolves once the baby is born.

Related diseases:

  • Gout (especially the joint at the base of the big toe)
  • Types of arthritis pain, such as osteoarthritis, psoriatic arthritis and septic arthritis
  • Autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, which stem from the immune system and can lead to painful joints
  • Arthritis bursitis
  • Tendonitis
  • Chondromalacia patellae
  • Osteoporosis
  • Osteomyelitis
  • Infectious diseases such as influenza, Epstein-Barr viral syndrome, rheumatic fever, hepatitis, measles, mumps, rubella, paravirus and chickenpox
  • Lyme disease

How to Get Treatment for Painful Joints

First, your doctor will want to diagnose the cause of your pain. Once the cause has been determined, there are different options available for treatment. The goal of treatment is to reduce pain and inflammation while maintaining function.

Treatment options include medication, topical relief, physical therapy, injections, alternative treatments and self-care at home. Over-the-counter pain medication like ibuprofen, anti-inflammatories or muscles relaxers are commonly recommended to treat mild pain symptoms.

More severe symptoms of joint pain, often related to chronic conditions, may require a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) prescription to reduce pain, inflammation or swelling. Unfortunately, some over-the-counter or prescription pain medications have potentially harmful side effects like increased risk of a stroke or heart attack.

Self-care at home is important. When treating mild pain at home, follow these tips:

Supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin may help with pain and range of motion. These are components of cartilage that help protect joints and cushion bones.

With any treatment plan, seek medical attention right away if your joint suddenly becomes deformed or inflamed, if you can no longer use the area at all or if the pain becomes too intense.

 

References:
  1. “Arthritis Pain.” Arthritis.org. Accessed September 25, 2019. https://www.arthritis.org/toolkits/arthritis-pain/about-pain/inflammatory-joint-pain.php
  2. “Joint Pain.” Mayo Clinic. Accessed September 25, 2019. https://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/joint-pain/basics/definition/sym-20050668
  3.  “Joint Pain.” Medline Plus. Accessed September 25, 2019. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003261.htm
  4.  “Joint Pain.” WebMD. Accessed September 25, 2019. https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/guide/joint-pain#1  
  5. O’Connell, Krista. “What to Know About Joint Pain.” Healthline. Accessed September 25, 2019. https://www.healthline.com/health/joint-pain