Joint pain

Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at November 26, 2015
StartSymptomsJoint pain

Joints are very important parts of every human body, without which, we wouldn’t move. Sometimes, people experience joint pain or swelling, which could be uncomfortable or downright painful. While there are many causes of joint pain, there, are many treatment options and methods of recovery, as well as preventative measures to keep joints healthy.


Definition & Facts

Joints are what make it possible for the human body to move the way it does. Without joints, the human skeleton would just be a rigid structure incapable of comfortable movement. So, the bones are divided up into many smaller ones and the joints are what hold these connections together and allows movement of the body.

There are different types of joints, such as synarthrosis, amphiarthrosis, diarthrosis joints. Synarthrosis joints are the few ones that don't permit movement, such as the ones that connect the teeth to the skull. Ampiarthrosis joints allow a slight movement, like the disks in the spine.

Diarthrosis joints move freely and have the highest range of motion; these are in the elbows, knees, fingers, shoulders, etc. Joints are made of different things, as well. Some are fibrous, some are made of cartilage, and some are filled with fluid. There are gliding joints, hinge joints, saddle joints, and ball-and-socket joints.


Joint pain is very common, and can be caused by many things. It can be a mild nuisance or a debilitating issue. Pain can be acute and last only for a short period of time, like a few weeks, ; or an individual may experience chronic pain, which can last several weeks, months, or even years, in some cases.

Common joint pain occurs in the knees, shoulders, and hips. Acute pain usually occurs form injuries such as sprains, strains, dislocations, or be a temporary problem, like bursitis. Some conditions, however, can cause pain and inflammation for an extended period of time; these conditions include fibromyalgia, bone cancer, gout, arthritis, lupus, Lyme disease, hypothyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis, and tendinitis.

In some cases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, joint pain can be a lifelong problem which can only be managed, and not healed completely. For these cases, it can be very disruptive to day to day living, and can even be crippling, leaving some people unable to walk, drive, or use their hands properly.

When to see a doctor

It's important to know when to see a doctor, to prevent any further damage to whatever joints are causing pain. Of course, if an injury has occurred and is causing pain and swelling, like a sprain, emergency medical attention is necessary. Improper treatment could result in permanent damage, such as joint deformity, or even inability to use the joint after healing. It can be harder to tell if medical attention is necessary for milder joint pain without injury.

There are a few signs, however, to look out for. If there is any swelling, tenderness, warmth or redness around the joint, or there is sudden difficulties in using the joint, than it's important to see a doctor as soon as possible. The doctor will have many different tests to diagnosis someone's issues. Once a diagnosis is in place, the doctor and patient should work together to ensure safe and quick recovery.

Treatment & Therapy

Treatment for joint pain varies, depending on what is causing the pain, but the main goal is the same for all joint pain: reduce the pain and inflammation, and attempt to preserve the function of the joint. In the case of an injury like a sprain or dislocation, treatment is mostly aimed at self-care.

Over the counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or naproxen sodium work well for mild to moderate pain, and a lighter pill such as acetaminophen works well with low pain issues. For injuries, ice packs are important; place them over the joint for 15-20 minutes, several times a day. It may be wise to use a brace or wrap to protect the joint from movement or over extension. Rest is also important, as much as possible, and the joint should be elevated above heart level whenever possible. This method of treatment is basically the same for chronic joint pain.

There are also topical agents which could be used for pain relief, specifically capsaicin and methyl salicylate. If over the counter medication does not help, a doctor may prescribe more powerful prescription medications. In some cases, doctors may also prescribe muscle relaxers or even antidepressants or anti-epileptic drugs, which can interfere with pain signals.

Physical therapy may also be incorporated into treatment. Physical therapists can work to improve range of motion in the joint, stabilize it, and strengthen the muscles around it. They use a combination of different things, including heat or cold therapy, ultrasound, Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, and manipulation.

Prevention & Prophylaxis

For injury related joint pain, it can take a few weeks to heal properly. It's important to stick with self-care plan to ensure proper healing. Once the injury is healed, it's wise to adopt a regime for helping reduce and prevent further joint pain. For those with chronic joint pain problems, it may be necessary to take medications forever, to cope.

Some people may even need steroid injections every few months; this is a common treatment for patients with arthritis, tendinitis, or joint disease. Besides the medications or steroids, it's wise to exercise regularly. It can be a wonderful tool for combating joint pain, as long as the exercises do not cause more pain; it can increase the flexibility and strength of the joint, decreasing the chance of injury in the future.

Lifting weights or doing resistance training can help build muscle and make them stronger around the joints. Yoga is an excellent alternative method for preventative purposes. This ancient practice has long been known to help strengthen joints and expand flexibility. Diet is also very important, as it's been found that much of what is in modern food actually contributes to inflammation. Some things to avoid trans and saturated fat, sugar, and refined carbohydrates. It may not seem like it, but nutrition plays a big role in the joint health.