What’s Causing Your Joint Pain?

Joint pain is an extremely common condition that affects millions of people, but not all joint pain is the same. Understanding the root cause of your pain starts with knowing more about how your joints work and how they may be injured.

Joints form connections between your bones and are found throughout your body. There are multiple joints in your body including your knees, hips and shoulders, but there are also joints in your wrist, hands, feet and back. Joints are made of bones coming together and are supported by tendons, ligaments and muscles, with cartilage to separate them and support motion.

Many conditions lead to joint pain and difficulty with function. The most common is osteoarthritis, which is a wear and tear disease. Sprains, strains, bursitis, gout and other injuries or diseases can also cause issues. Various joints can be affected throughout the body, but the knee joint is the most common complaint, followed by the shoulder and hip.

Pain in a joint may be acute, meaning it lasts for a few weeks after an injury such as a sprain or a ligament tear. This can lead to short-term swelling and pain and can negatively affect your daily activities and quality of life.

Joint pain may also accumulate over time and become painful from osteoarthritis and wearing away of the cartilage and surrounding tissues. This chronic condition can cause long-term pain (months or years) and difficulty with the functioning of the joint. It may change the way that the joint moves in the body with activities as simple as walking. These changes in the joint can even lead to dysfunction in other areas of the body, such as worsened back pain from knee pain and osteoarthritis that causes you to walk differently.

Typical initial treatment when you have joint pain consists of short-term rest, ice, physical therapy and medications such as Tylenol or anti-inflammatories. If your joint pain continues or worsens, it is recommended that you see your healthcare provider for further evaluation of the cause of your pain and possible treatment options that can help with your pain and function.

If you have extreme pain, sudden inflammation and warmth of the area, deformity of the joint or can no longer move the joint, urgent evaluation may be needed.


Dr. Szepiela is board certified in physical medicine and rehabilitation, sports medicine and has a specialized interest in spinal intervention. Learn more about him through his contributor bio and physician profile.

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