Joints form the connections between bones. They provide support and help you move. Any damage to the joints from disease or injury can interfere with your movement and cause a lot of pain.
Cause of Joint Pain
Joint pain is extremely common, especially as you age. In one national survey, about one-third of adults reported having joint pain within the past 30 days. Knee pain was the most common complaint, followed by shoulder and hip pain. But joint pain can affect any part of your body, from your ankles and feet to your shoulders and hands.
A wide range of conditions can lead to painful joints:
- Osteoarthritis, a “wear and tear” disease, is the most common type of arthritis.
- Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that happens when your body attacks its own tissues.
- Bursitis is when sacs of fluid that help cushion your joints get inflamed.
- Gout is a form of arthritis that most often affects your big toe joint.
- Strains, sprains, and other injuries.
Often, the pain can come with swelling and inflammation, stiffness, and loss of range of motion.
Who is more likely to experience joint pain?
Joint pain tends to affects those who:
- Have had previous injuries to a joint
- Repeatedly use and/or overuse a muscle
- Have arthritis or other chronic medical conditions
- Suffer from depression, anxiety, and/or stress
- Are overweight
- Suffer from poor health
Age is also a factor in stiff and painful joints. After years of use, and wear and tear on joints, problems may arise in middle-aged or older adults.
How is joint pain treated?
Although there may not be a cure for the pain, it can be managed to bring the patient relief. Sometimes the pain may go away by taking over-the-counter medication, or by performing simple daily exercises. Other times, the pain may be signaling problems that can only be corrected with prescription medication or surgery.
- Simple at-home treatments, such as applying a heating pad or ice on the affected area, may be recommended for short periods, several times a day. Soaking in a warm bathtub may also offer relief.
- Exercise can help get back strength and function. Walking, swimming, or other low-impact aerobic exercise is best. Those who participate in strenuous workouts or sports activities may need to scale it back or begin a low-impact workout routine. Gentle stretching exercises will also help. Check with the doctor before beginning or continuing any exercise program.
- Weight loss may also be suggested, if needed, to lessen strain on joints.
- Acetaminophen, (Tylenol®) or anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen), may help ease the pain. Both of these medicines are available over the counter, but stronger doses may need a doctor’s prescription. If you have a history of stomach ulcers, kidney disease, or liver disease, check with your physician to see if this is a good option for you.
- Topical treatments, such as ointments or gels that can be rubbed into the skin over the affected joint area, may also help ease pain. Some of these may be found over the counter, or the doctor may write a prescription.
- Dietary supplements, like glucosamine, may help relieve pain. Ask the doctor before taking any over-the-counter supplements.
If those medications or treatments do not ease the pain, the doctor may prescribe:
- Supportive aids, such as a brace, cane, or orthotic device in the shoe, can help support the joint to allow ease of movement. The doctor, physical or occupational therapist, or social worker will be able to assist with the right option(s) available.
- Physical or Occupational Therapy, along with a balanced fitness program, may gradually help ease pain and improve flexibility.
- Antidepressants may be prescribed to help improve sleep for a patient suffering from joint pain.
- Steroids, often given by injection into the joint, provide short-term relief of pain and swelling.
- Painkilling drugs that help ease pain.
Please note that medicine, even those available over the counter, affects people differently. What helps one person may not work for another. Be sure to follow the doctor’s directions carefully when taking any medicine, and tell him or her if you have any side effects.