What Is Joint Pain?
Joints are the spaces between bones. They are the part of the musculoskeletal system that supports the body and helps it move. Joint pain is an extremely common ailment, and is known as arthralgia by medical professionals. A survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that approximately 33% of adults have complained of this symptom in the preceding 30 days.
Joint pain can vary from person to person. It can affect any joint in the body, but the most common areas affected include the knee, shoulder, and hip. Symptoms can be acute or chronic. There can be associated swelling and stiffness of the joint. It can adversely affect some people mildly and others severely. Lastly, the pain can be intermittent.
Causes Of Joint Pain
Joint pain has many different etiologies. Some of the more common causes are:
- Osteoarthritis: This is caused by inflammation in the bones and joints. It is the most common of the forms of arthritis. It can result from years of hard wear on joints or specific injuries, such as fractures. The condition is usually progressive and culminates in the deterioration of cartilage, which cushions and protects joints. End-stage of this disease results in bone rubbing upon bone, which is extremely painful and can result in consideration for joint replacement.
- Rheumatoid arthritis: A chronic autoimmune disease that causes joint pain due to the immune system attacking a person’s own joints. It typically affects the small joints of the hands and feet, which can result in painful swelling, bony erosions, and joint deformities. This disease affects women more commonly than men.
- Bursitis: This is inflammation of a bursa, but it can also cause joint pain. A bursa is a small fluid-filled sac near a joint. The most commonly affected joints include the elbow, shoulder, and hip. The disease is a result of joint overuse or injury.
- Gout: A form of arthritis that can also be an origin of joint pain. It is one of the oldest diseases known to man. The disease results from blood becoming supersaturated with uric acid. Uric acid then precipitates and forms crystals that settle into joints. The uric acid crystals irritate joints leading to inflammation and joint pain. The disease can occur in any large joint, but most commonly occurs in the joints of the big toe.
- Tendinitis: This is inflammation of a tendon and another cause of joint pain. Tendons connect muscle to bone. Common sites for this disease include the shoulder, elbow, knee, lower leg, and Achilles tendon.
- Certain infections such as osteomyelitis, hepatitis B virus, parvovirus B-19, and Lyme disease can manifest as joint pain.
- Trauma such as sprains, strains, and fractures can also be causes of joint pain.
Treatments For Joint Pain
The goals for joint pain management include relief of pain, restoration and maintenance of joint function, and prevention of further joint damage.
Those with joint pain may be helped by joint injections. Steroid joint injections reduce inflammation, and as a result reduce pain. Hyaluronan injections can be particularly helpful in those with severe osteoarthritis of the knee. Hyaluronan is a synthetic form of the body’s natural synovial fluid that bathes joints. As a general rule, joint injections should not be given more than three times a year.
Modalities to treat joint pain include physical therapy and weight loss. Physical therapy can stabilize, strengthen, and improve range of motion in joints. Weight loss can be accomplished through low-impact aerobic exercise, such as swimming and bicycling. Weight loss will also reduce stress on joints.
Finally, those with chronic joint pain related to osteoarthritis can be treated with joint replacement. The most commonly replaced joints are the knee and hip.