Joint Pain

What is joint pain?

Joint pain can be caused by any injury affecting any of the ligaments, bursae, or tendons surrounding the joint. Injury can also affect the ligaments, cartilage, and bones within the joint. Pain is also a feature of joint inflammation (arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis). Pain within the joint is a common cause of shoulder pain, ankle pain, and knee pain. Joint pain can be mild, causing soreness only after certain activities, or it can be severe, making even limited movement, particularly bearing weight, extremely painful. Joint pain is also referred to as arthralgia.

What causes joint pain?

  • Bursitis
  • Crystals in the joint — gout (especially found in the big toe) and CPPD arthritis (pseudogout)
  • Injury, such as a fracture
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Tendinitis
  • Unusual exertion or overuse, including strains or sprains

What are the symptoms of joint pain?

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

What is the treatment for joint pain?

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. 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 medications 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.

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, can provide relief of pain and swelling.
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