Joint pain is a condition affecting any area of the body where two or more bones connect to form a joint. The human body contains over 300 joints; in fact, each hand has 29 major joints! Joint pain can affect just one or several joints. Discover how joint pain can be treated at home in some cases, and by pain specialists like Dr. Torres.
Joints include several kinds of supporting and moving parts. They typically consist of fibrous connective tissue and cartilage. Any part of the joint (bone, muscle, tissue, or cartilage) can be a source of pain. Although muscles are not technically part of a joint, they are important because strong muscles help support and protect the joints.
Knee pain is the most common type of joint pain, followed by shoulder and hip pain. However, joint pain can affect any part of the body. Painful joints become increasingly more common as we age.
Any damage to a joint, whether it be a disease or injury, can interfere with movement and cause pain (arthralgia). Joint pain can result in discomfort or inflammation from any part of a joint (cartilage, bone, ligaments, tendons, or muscles).
Most commonly, the term ”joint pain” refers to arthritis or arthralgia (inflammation or pain from within the joint itself). However, many different conditions can lead to painful joints, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, bursitis, and gout. Joint pain can also be the result of a strain, sprain, or other injury.
Joint pain can be mild, causing soreness after certain activities. It can also be severe, making even minor movement painful. And, furthermore, weight-bearing activities can be extremely painful.
What Causes Joint Pain?
Joint pain can be caused by an injury that affects the ligaments, bursae, or tendons surrounding or within the joint. Joint pain can result from a broken bone, or caused by joint inflammation or infection. In some cases, the pain may be caused by cancer of the joint.
Other causes of joint pain include:
Adult Still’s disease. A rare systemic autoinflammatory disease that causes high spiking fevers, and a rash in addition to joint pain.
Ankylosing spondylitis. A type of inflammatory arthritis that primarily affects the spine that can cause spinal vertebrae to fuse.
Autoimmune diseases. Conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus can cause joint pain.
Avascular necrosis. The death of bone tissue due to limited blood flow.
Bursitis. Pain caused by joint inflammation.
Chondromalacia patellae. The softening and breakdown of cartilage on the underside of the kneecap.
Paget’s disease of bone. A condition that causes bones to become fragile and misshapen.
Polymyalgia rheumatica. An inflammatory disorder causing muscle pain and stiffness.
Pseudogout. A form of arthritis causing sudden, painful swelling of the joints.
Psoriatic arthritis. A type of arthritis affecting people with psoriasis.
Reactive arthritis. Joint pain and swelling occurring from an infection in another part of the body.
Rheumatic fever. An inflammatory disease that can be a complication of an inadequately treated strep throat or scarlet fever.
Rheumatoid arthritis. An inflammatory joint disease.
Rickets. The softening and weakening of bones in children.
Sarcoidosis. A collection of inflammatory cells in the body.
Septic arthritis. A joint infection caused by a bacterial, viral or fungal infection.
Sprains and strains. Common injuries involving the stretching or tearing of ligaments (sprain) or muscles (strain).
Tendinitis. An inflammation or irritation of a tendon.
Many types of injuries or conditions can cause pain in a joint. No matter what the cause, joint pain can range from mildly irritating to debilitating.
What are the Symptoms of Joint Pain?
Joint pain may go away after a few weeks (acute), or last for several weeks or months (chronic). Even short-term pain and swelling of joints can affect your quality of life. Symptoms and signs associated with joint pain include:
Locking of the joint.
Loss of the joint’s full range of motion.
Pain with movement.
How is Joint Pain Diagnosed and Treated?
The diagnosis of joint pain begins with the doctor diagnosing the condition causing the pain. The goal is to reduce pain and inflammation. In addition, the treatment goal is to preserve and improve the function of the joint.
A healthcare professional will want a detailed history of the symptoms and the patient’s general condition. The doctor will want to know when the symptoms began, the severity of the pain, and any medications the patient is taking as well as their lifestyle habits.
The doctor will also do a physical examination which may include:
A search for the source of the pain.
An evaluation of the affected area (looking for signs of inflammation, redness, swelling, tenderness, and any stiffness).
A range of motion test.
Evaluate movement, noting how painful, impaired, or stiff the motion is and whether there is pain when the examiner moves the joint or when the patient moves it.
In addition, the doctor may want to order lab tests (blood, urine, etc.) and imaging tests (X-ray, CT scan, etc.) to view any suspected joint damage.
The first line of treatment for many cases of joint pain is self-care. Some cases require prescription medication as well as physical therapy.
Some of the methods for treating mild joint pain at home include:
For moderate-to-severe pain with swelling, take an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) like aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin IB) or naproxen sodium (Aleve).
For milder pain without swelling, taking acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be helpful.
Avoid using or moving the joint in ways that cause or worsen the pain.
Apply ice (or a package of frozen peas) to the painful joint for 15 to 20 minutes a few times each day to relieve the pain.
Apply a heating pad, soak in a warm tub, or take a warm shower to relax muscles, increase circulation and help aid healing.
Self-care techniques to relieve short-term joint pain is known by the acronym, PRICE:
Protect the joint with a brace or wrap.
Rest the joint, avoiding activities that cause pain.
Ice the joint for about 15 minutes, several times each day.
Compress the joint using an elastic wrap.
Elevate the joint above the level of your heart.
Applying ice can help ease joint pain and inflammation. For muscle spasms, a heating pad or hot wrap several times a day can help. Often, tape or splinting the joint can help minimize movement and reduce pain. However, avoid keeping the joint unmovable for extended periods of time as this can cause the joint to become stiff and possibly lose function eventually.
Physical therapy can help strengthen the muscles around the joint, stabilize the joint, and improve the joint’s range of motion. Techniques such as ultrasound, heat or cold therapy, electrical nerve stimulation, and manipulation are treatment options.
In cases where the patient is overweight, losing weight can often help relieve pressure on painful joints. Exercise is an effective way to lose weight (along with diet). Low-impact exercises, like swimming and bicycling, are among the best for preventing additional joint irritation.
Capsaicin, the substance found in chili peppers, may also help relieve certain types of joint pain, like arthritis. Capsaicin helps block pain signals in the body and triggers the release of pain-blocking chemicals (endorphins).
Other drugs that can help relieve pain include:
Muscle relaxants to treat muscle spasms (may be used together with NSAIDs to increase the effectiveness).
Some antidepressants and antiepileptic drugs (which both interfere with pain signals).
Steroid injections directly into the joint (often combined with an anesthetic) every three to four months can be effective when other medications do not provide relief. Steroid injections are most commonly used with arthritis, joint disease, and tendinitis. The procedure is helpful, but in most situations the effect is only temporary.
Other options may include:
Removing fluid from the joint (often in connection with a steroid injection).
Injections of a synthetic version of the natural joint fluid (hyaluronan) are often used in treating osteoarthritis.
Acupuncture. This technique can help relieve musculoskeletal pain resulting from fibromyalgia by activating the body’s natural pain relief system and stimulating the nerves, muscles and connective tissue.
Massage. An invigorating massage with warm essential oil can help joint pain as well as other conditions. The massage enhances blood flow, relaxes muscle tissue, and helps soothe inflammation. It also helps ease joint stiffness and increase the range of motion in individuals suffering from arthritis, fibromyalgia, and osteoporosis.
Supplements. There is evidence that glucosamine and chondroitin supplements can help with joint pain and improve function. Both are components of healthy cartilage which cushion bones and protect the joints. These supplements may not work for everyone; however, they are safe to try and have no significant side effects.
Tai chi and yoga. These low-impact activities can increase the range of motion while strengthening joints and surrounding muscle tissue. Tai chi can help improve range of motion and alleviate joint pain for people living with fibromyalgia and arthritis. The gentle stretches in yoga can help prevent and alleviate chronic soreness in the shoulders, hips, and knees.
Novus Spine & Pain Center
Novus Spine & Pain Center is in Lakeland, Florida, and specializes in treating joint pain. By using a comprehensive approach and cutting-edge therapies, we work together with patients to restore function and regain an active lifestyle, while minimizing the need for opiates.