What Is Joint Pain?
Joints are the parts of your body where your bones meet.
Joint pain refers to discomfort, aches, and soreness in any of the body’s joints. Joint pain is a common complaint, and does not typically require a hospital visit. Arthritis is a frequent cause of joint pain. However, it can also be caused by other conditions or factors.
Arthritis and Joint Pain
There are two main forms of arthritis, both of which may cause many cases of joint pain.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, about 27 million individuals in the United States have this chronic condition. The knees, hips, and hands are affected most often (Arthritis Foundation, 2012). Joint pain due to osteoarthritis results from a breakdown of the cartilage that serves as a cushion and shock absorber for the joints.
The second form of arthritis is rheumatoid arthritis. According to the Arthritis Foundation, rheumatoid arthritis affects about 1.3 million Americans (Arthritis Foundation, 2012). It can deform and debilitate the joints over time. Rheumatoid arthritis causes pain, inflammation, and fluid buildup in the joints as the membrane that lines them is attacked by the body’s immune system.
Other Common Causes of Joint Pain
Conditions other than arthritis that can cause joint pain include:
- bursitis (inflammation of the cushioning pads around joints)
- certain infectious diseases (such as mumps, influenza, and hepatitis)
- chondromalacia of the patella (breakdown of the kneecap’s cartilage)
- tendinitis (inflammation of the tendon)
- infection of the bone
Managing Joint Pain at Home
Joint Pain Caused by Arthritis
Both forms of arthritis are considered chronic conditions. Nothing can completely eliminate the joint pain associated with arthritis or keep it from returning. However, there are ways to manage the pain. It may help to:
- use topical pain relievers
- take NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) to reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation
- stay physically active and follow a fitness program focusing on moderate exercise
- stretch prior to exercising to maintain a good range of motion in your joints
- keep your body weight within a healthy range, which will lessen stress on the joints
Joint Pain Due to Other Causes
If your pain is not caused by arthritis, you can try these general pain relief measures:
- take a nonprescription anti-inflammatory
- get a massage
- take a warm bath
- stretch frequently
- get adequate rest
Joint Pain That Requires a Visit to the Doctor
In some cases, your joint pain will require you to see a doctor. You should make an appointment if:
- you do not know the cause of your joint pain and are experiencing other unexplained symptoms
- the area around the joint is swollen, red, tender, or warm to the touch
- the pain persists for three days or more
- you have a fever but no other signs of the flu
Go to the emergency room if:
- the joint pain is caused by a serious injury
- the joint appears deformed
- swelling occurs suddenly
- the joint is completely immobile
- the pain is severe
Your doctor will probably perform a physical exam when you arrive at the office. He or she will also ask you a series of questions about your joint pain. This may help to narrow down the potential causes.
A joint X-ray may be needed to identify arthritis-related joint damage. If the doctor suspects there is another cause, he or she may perform a blood test to screen for certain autoimmune disorders. He or she may also perform a sedimentation rate test to measure the level of inflammation in the body, or a complete blood count (CBC).
Your treatment options will depend on the cause of the pain. In some cases, your doctor will need to draw out fluid that has accumulated in the joint area, or recommend that a surgeon replace the joint.
Other non-surgical treatment methods could include lifestyle changes or medications that can potentially cause your rheumatoid arthritis to go into remission.
Why Severe, Persistent, or New Joint Pain Should Not Be Ignored
Joint pain is often merely a result of the damage that occurs through normal wear and tear. However, it can also be a sign of an infection or potentially debilitating rheumatoid arthritis.
Have any instance of unexplained joint pain checked by your doctor, especially if it does not go away on its own after a few days. Early detection and diagnosis can allow for effective treatment of the underlying cause of your discomfort.