Bones muscles and joints

Joint Pain: Causes and Remedies


By Tomás Vicente

Key Points

  • Joints are structures where the bones meet.
  • The joints most commonly affected by joint pain are the hips, shoulders, and knees, with the knees being the most susceptible to discomfort.
  • To relieve joint pain, professionals recommend maintaining a healthy diet, preventing joint overload, avoiding tobacco and caffeine, and losing excess weight.
  • You should see a doctor if your joint pain is accompanied by redness, excessive swelling, sensitivity, heat, deformity, or inability to use the joint.

Joints are structures where the bones meet; for example, at the hip, elbow, shoulder, and knee. It would be impossible to move the body without them.

Different factors can impact the joints and cause pain, stiffness, or swelling. In this article, we will look at the main causes of joint pain and how you can relieve it.

Joints are classified into different categories according to how much they can move:

  • Synarthroses (immovable or fibrous joints): Joints that do not move. They can be found at the borders of the bony plates that form the skull or in the jaw, where they keep the teeth in place.
  • Amphiarthroses (slightly movable or cartilaginous joints): Joints that move a little. They are joined by cartilage, such as in the spine. Each vertebra moves in conjunction with the vertebrae above and below it. Together, they make the spine flexible.
  • Diarthroses (movable or synovial joints): Joints that move in many directions. They are filled with synovial fluid, which acts as a lubricant to help the joints move freely. Examples of this type of joint include the hip, elbow, shoulder, wrist, knee, and ankle.

Why do joints hurt?

Joint pain can be caused by many types of injuries and conditions. The regenerative ability of cartilage (the spongy tissue that protects the joints) normally deteriorates.

This leaves the bones unprotected, causing them to rub against each other and inciting swelling, pain, and bone spurs in the joint, which then leads to stiffness and difficulty moving.

The most common causes of joint pain are arthritis (swelling or degeneration of one or more joints), bursitis (swelling and irritation of a bursa, a type of fluid-filled sac that acts as a buffer between muscles, tendons, and bones), and muscle pain.

Other factors that can affect the joints are:

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  • Bone cancer.
  • Dislocation.
  • Lyme disease.
  • Sprains.
  • Fibromyalgia.
  • Bone fracture.
  • Gout (arthritis related to too much uric acid).
  • Hypothyroidism.
  • Leukemia.
  • Lupus.
  • Avascular necrosis (death of bone tissue due to lack of blood flow).
  • Osteoarthritis (disease that causes the joints to wear down).
  • Osteomyelitis (a bone infection).
  • Rickets.
  • Complex regional pain syndrome (chronic pain due to nervous system dysfunction).
  • Sarcoidosis (groups of inflammatory cells in the body).
  • Tendinitis.

The joints most commonly affected by joint pain are the hips, shoulders, and knees, with the knees being the most susceptible to discomfort.

How to protect the joints

You can protect the joints by improving how you do daily tasks and modifying your lifestyle:

  • Healthy diet: Olive oil, broccoli, turmeric, ginger, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, nuts, spinach, chard, and oranges are some of the foods that experts recommend including to keep your joints healthy. That’s because these foods have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Prevent joint overload: Try to use your biggest and strongest joints and muscles when lifting or moving heavy objects. This distributes the load over larger surface areas and reduces the stress on smaller joints.
  • Avoid or limit tobacco and caffeine: Smokers have a higher risk of joint, bone, and muscle damage. And too much caffeine is associated with weakening of the joints and bones.
  • Avoid a sedentary lifestyle: Exercise protects the joints by strengthening the muscles around them. Strong muscles prevent the joints from rubbing against each other, which wears down cartilage. One exercise option is aquatic exercise, which helps maintain your flexibility and range of motion. You should also try to change position often during daily activities, such as while working. Sitting or standing for long periods can seriously affect the joints.
  • Lose weight: Evidence has shown that for every 1/2 kg extra you weigh, you put four times more stress on your knees. Even a small amount of weight loss can cause relief.

Home remedies and precautions

If you have mild joint pain, you can follow these tips (although you should discuss them with a health care professional first):

  • Apply ice (which limits blood flow) or heat (which increases blood flow) on the affected joint for 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Avoid moving the joint in a way that causes pain or makes it worse.
  • Use over-the-counter pain medicine, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, or others) or naproxen sodium (Aleve).

Joint pain isn’t usually a sign of alarm, but you should see a doctor if it is accompanied by:

  • Redness and excessive swelling.
  • Sensitivity and heat around the joint.
  • Deformity of the joint.
  • Inability to use the joint.
  • Intense pain.

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Arthritis Foundation; National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.