Joint pain is discomfort that occurs at any joint — the point where two or more bones meet. It can develop in the form of a medical condition (like arthritis) or an injury. Joint pain can either be mild, causing soreness with each movement, or it can be severe, making it impossible to use that joint. Joint pain often occurs in the shoulders and knees. Self-care treatment options are typically enough to alleviate mild joint pain, although physical therapy and joint injection can also be effective if necessary. In some cases, surgical repair of the joint is required.
Symptoms of joint pain include swelling of the joint area, instability and weakness, stiffness, redness and warmth to the touch, a popping noise when applying pressure, and inability to straighten out the joint.
Injuries can cause joint pain by affecting the ligaments and tendons surrounding a joint, as well as the bones, cartilage and ligaments that form the joint itself.
- Loose body – A piece of bone can break off and float in the joint space as a result of injury. Although usually harmless, this may effect joint movement and require treatment.
- Joint locking – When cartilage tears, a portion of the tear flips inside the joint, causing the inability to fully straighten the knee.
- Bone dislocation – Occurs when bones slip out of place, causing abnormal movement
- igament tear – Occurs after the joint injury, causing the joint instability
- Osteoarthritis – Most common type, a wear-and-tear condition that occurs when knee cartilage gets worn down with use and age
- Rheumatoid arthritis – An autoimmune condition that can affect almost any joint, varies in severity, chronic condition
- Gout – Occurs when uric acid crystals build up in the joint, often affects the big toe and knee
- Pseudogout – Caused by calcium pyrophosphate crystals that develop in the joint fluid
- Septic arthritis – Swelling and redness of the joints with sudden onsets of pain, often occurs with a fever
Other knee problems include Iliotibial band syndrome, Chondromalacia patellae, Osgood-Schlatter disease, Osteochondritis dissecans
A diagnosis can be made for joint pain using imaging tests such as an x-ray, computerized tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), all of which detect bone trauma. Blood tests and fluid tests may be necessary for certain forms of joint pain.
Your doctor may prescribe medications to help relieve pain and to treat underlying conditions, such as arthritis.
- Physical therapy – Strengthens muscles around joints to make them more stable and strong
- Orthotics and bracing – Arch supports and various kinds of braces can help shift pressure off of a joint and protect the joint
- Corticosteroids – Injections can help reduce symptoms of an arthritis flare and alleviate pain; small risk of infection
- Hyaluronic acid – Thick fluid found in healthy joints, can ease pain and provide lubrication if injected into joint spaces; relief from injections may last six months to one year.
- Surgery – For cases that may require surgery, the surgery is usually not an emergency and should be carefully considered before opting for this treatment route.
Over-the-counter pain relievers can help to alleviate discomfort in joints. Other easy methods include getting more rest from the strain of daily activities, using ice packs to treat inflammation, compression bandages to prevent fluid buildup, and elevating joints to prevent swelling.