What causes joint pain? 101 possible conditions

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What Is Joint Pain?

Joints are the parts of your body where your bones meet.

Joint pain refers to discomfort, aches, and soreness in any of the body’s joints. Joint pain is a common complaint, and does not typically require a hospital visit. Arthritis is a frequent cause of joint pain. However, it can also be caused by other conditions or factors.

Arthritis and Joint Pain

There are two main forms of arthritis, both of which may cause many cases of joint pain.

Osteoarthritis

According to the Arthritis Foundation, about 27 million individuals in the United States have this chronic condition. The knees, hips, and hands are affected most often (Arthritis Foundation, 2012). Joint pain due to osteoarthritis results from a breakdown of the cartilage that serves as a cushion and shock absorber for the joints.

The second form of arthritis is rheumatoid arthritis. According to the Arthritis Foundation, rheumatoid arthritis affects about 1.3 million Americans (Arthritis Foundation, 2012). It can deform and debilitate the joints over time. Rheumatoid arthritis causes pain, inflammation, and fluid buildup in the joints as the membrane that lines them is attacked by the body’s immune system.

Other Common Causes of Joint Pain

Conditions other than arthritis that can cause joint pain include:

  • bursitis (inflammation of the cushioning pads around joints)
  • lupus
  • gout
  • certain infectious diseases (such as mumps, influenza, and hepatitis)
  • chondromalacia of the patella (breakdown of the kneecap’s cartilage)
  • injury
  • tendinitis (inflammation of the tendon)
  • infection of the bone
  • overuse
  • cancer
  • fibromyalgia
  • osteoporosis
  • sarcoidosis
  • rickets

Managing Joint Pain at Home

Joint Pain Caused by Arthritis

Both forms of arthritis are considered chronic conditions. Nothing can completely eliminate the joint pain associated with arthritis or keep it from returning. However, there are ways to manage the pain. It may help to:

  • use topical pain relievers
  • take NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) to reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation
  • stay physically active and follow a fitness program focusing on moderate exercise
  • stretch prior to exercising to maintain a good range of motion in your joints
  • keep your body weight within a healthy range, which will lessen stress on the joints

Joint Pain Due to Other Causes

If your pain is not caused by arthritis, you can try these general pain relief measures:

  • take a nonprescription anti-inflammatory
  • get a massage
  • take a warm bath
  • stretch frequently
  • get adequate rest

Joint Pain That Requires a Visit to the Doctor

In some cases, your joint pain will require you to see a doctor. You should make an appointment if:

  • you do not know the cause of your joint pain and are experiencing other unexplained symptoms
  • the area around the joint is swollen, red, tender, or warm to the touch
  • the pain persists for three days or more
  • you have a fever but no other signs of the flu

Go to the emergency room if:

  • the joint pain is caused by a serious injury
  • the joint appears deformed
  • swelling occurs suddenly
  • the joint is completely immobile
  • the pain is severe

Your doctor will probably perform a physical exam when you arrive at the office. He or she will also ask you a series of questions about your joint pain. This may help to narrow down the potential causes.

A joint X-ray may be needed to identify arthritis-related joint damage. If the doctor suspects there is another cause, he or she may perform a blood test to screen for certain autoimmune disorders. He or she may also perform a sedimentation rate test to measure the level of inflammation in the body, or a complete blood count (CBC).

Your treatment options will depend on the cause of the pain. In some cases, your doctor will need to draw out fluid that has accumulated in the joint area, or recommend that a surgeon replace the joint.

Other non-surgical treatment methods could include lifestyle changes or medications that can potentially cause your rheumatoid arthritis to go into remission.

Why Severe, Persistent, or New Joint Pain Should Not Be Ignored

Joint pain is often merely a result of the damage that occurs through normal wear and tear. However, it can also be a sign of an infection or potentially debilitating rheumatoid arthritis.

Have any instance of unexplained joint pain checked by your doctor, especially if it does not go away on its own after a few days. Early detection and diagnosis can allow for effective treatment of the underlying cause of your discomfort.

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.

1

Arthritis

Arthritis is inflammation of the joints (where bones meet) in one or more areas of the body. This condition is most commonly seen in adults, but it can also develop in children and teens.

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2

What Is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis (OA) occurs when this cartilage (which provides a cushion for bones) wears away. It can occur in any joint in the body, but most commonly affects the knees, hips, spine, and hands.

Read more »

3

Rheumatoid Arthritis Overview

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease, a disease in which the immune system mistakes the body's own cells for invaders. In RA, the immune system attacks the synovia, the membranes lining the joints.

Read more »

4

Sprains & Strains

Sprains and strains are injuries to the body, often resulting from physical activity. These injuries are common and can range from minor to severe, depending on the incident. Most don't require medical attention.

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5

CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome)

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a debilitating disorder characterized by intense fatigue that cannot be cured with sleep. Mental and physical activities may cause symptoms to worsen. When fatigue cannot be linked to ...

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6

What is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder characterized by widespread, unexplained pain in tender points in muscles and joints, including the head, neck, and sides of hips.

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7

Bursitis

Bursitis is an inflammation of the bursae, the fluid-filled sacs that help reduce friction where tendons, skin, and muscle tissues meet bones. Inflammation can cause discomfort and limit range of motion.

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8

Ankylosing Spondylitis

Ankylosing spondylitis is a form of arthritis that primarily affects your spine. It causes severe inflammation of the vertebrae that might eventually lead to chronic pain and disability.

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9

Psoriatic Arthritis

Psoriatic arthritis (PsA) is a type of arthritis that occurs in people with psoriasis. Psoriasis is a skin disease where itchy, scaly red patches appear on the skin and scalp. According to The National Psoriasi...

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10

Bone Infection (Osteomyelitis)

A bone infection may occur when bacteria or fungi invade the bone, causing many symptoms, including fever, redness, stiffness, and swelling.

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11

Dermatomyositis

Dermatomyositis is a rare inflammatory disease. It is an inflammatory myopathy, a condition that occurs when muscles become inflamed. It is one of only three known inflammatory myopathies. The most common symptom i...

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12

Cold and Flu Overview

Overview Colds (common colds) and the flu (influenza) are contagious infections that affect the respiratory system. Both are airborne illnesses, spread through coughing and sneezing. Colds typically are confined to th...

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13

Tendon Sheath Inflammation (Tenosynovitis)

A tendon is a type of fibrous tissue connects your muscles to your bones. These tissues help control actions such as running, jumping, and lifting. Without tendons you would not be able to control the movement of you...

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14

Rheumatic Fever

Rheumatic fever is one of the complications associated with strep throat. The condition usually appears in children between the ages of 5 and 15, even though older children and adults have been known to contract th...

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15

Gout Overview

More than 8 million Americans suffer from gout, and incidence of the disease has increased by about half in the last 20 years. Explore our gout learning center and learn more.

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16

Fracture

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

A fracture is a broken bone. It can range from a thin crack to a complete break. A bone can fracture crosswise, lengthwise, in several places, or many pieces.

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17

Dislocations

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

A dislocation occurs when the bones that are usually be connected at a joint separate. You can dislocate a variety of different joints in your body, including your knee, hip, ankle, or shoulder. Since a dislocatio...

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18

Stopped Breathing

Apnea is the medical term used to describe slowed or stopped breathing. Apnea can affect people of all ages, and the cause depends on the type of apnea you have. Apnea usually occurs while you are sleeping. For thi...

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19

AIDS

HIV causes progressive failure of the immune system, making the body far more susceptible to infections and cancer.

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20

Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis

Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) is a common form of chronic arthritis in children. It is a long-term autoimmune condition characterized by stiffness and swelling in the joints. Most cases of JRA are mild, but sever...

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.
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