The joint is the point of meeting of bones in the body and plays an important role in the movement of the skeleton. Shoulder, hip, knees, and elbow represent different types of joints in the body.
Joint pain is a common complaint and it can be just pain or pain associated with inflammation. Joint pain or arthralgia may occur during rest or during an activity that involves the joint.
In some cases, the joint may also be inflamed, associated with warmth, pain, and swelling in the affected joint. Inflammation of the joint is referred to as arthritis.
Pain may also be due to some of the tissues surrounding the joint, including ligaments, tendons, bursae, and muscles. Polyarthralgia refers to pain in multiple joints of the body. The pain in polyarthralgia may be due to different joints at a different time.
Pain in the joint may originate from the articular sources within the joint or from structures surrounding the joint. The main sources of pain in the joint are synovium and joint capsule. Pain can be mild, causing soreness in the affected joint.
This may affect only during an activity that involves the joint. Severe pain in the joint limits the movement of the affected region. This is particularly true of joints that bear weight, and it can be extremely painful in some cases.
Medical attention is warranted if the joint pain is sudden and is associated with many other symptoms. Swelling, reddishness, tenderness, and warmth in the affected joint need doctor’s visit.
Immediate medical attention is required if the onset of pain is after a serious injury, or if the affected joint is deformed. Severe joint pain, sudden swelling in the joint, and inability to move the joint, all need an emergency medical visit.
One of the most common causes of joint pain is arthritis. Arthritis is of two types – osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis affects people above 40 years of age and is a progressive condition.
It commonly affects wrists, hands, hips, and knees. Rheumatoid arthritis leads to pain, inflammation, and buildup of fluid in the affected joint. It is caused by an abnormal response of the immune system that attacks the linings of joints.
Joint pain may also be caused by several other factors like:
- Inflammation of bursae
- Autoimmune diseases like lupus
- Certain infections like mumps, influenza, and hepatitis
- Breakdown of cartilage in knee
- Infection of bone
- Overuse of joint
- Inflammation of tendon
The cause of joint pain is evaluated based on a review of symptoms, medical history, and physical examination. Imaging studies are helpful in assessing the damage to joints.
Blood tests are used to screen for autoimmune disorders that may lead to joint pain. The level of inflammation is assessed using erythrocyte sedimentation rate. Complete blood count is used to check for the underlying cause of pain in the joints.
Chronic conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis are managed by topical pain relievers and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications. Moderate exercise, maintaining healthy body weight and reducing the strain on joints help to alleviate pain due to arthritis.
Medical treatment for joint pain depends on the cause. Draining the accumulated fluid and surgical repair are recommended depending on the cause of pain. Medications and lifestyle changes are also used to treat joint pain.