What is joint pain?
Joint pain is a common condition that is characterised by ache, discomfort or soreness in one or more joints in the body. The joints affected are usually knees, shoulders, neck, elbows and hips. The intensity and duration of the pain depend on the underlying cause. The pain is usually temporary and subsides on its own.
However, if the pain is caused by an underlying medical condition such as strain, sprain, gout, osteoarthritis, bursitis, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer in the joints. etc. then it may require long-term treatment or pain management.
What are the symptoms of joint pain?
Some of the most common signs and symptoms associated with joint pain are:
- Severe or moderate pain
- Joint stiffness
- Joint immobility
- Joint redness
- Joint swelling
- Joint tenderness
- Warmth in joint(s)
- Joint deformity
- Joint locking
What causes joint pain?
Joint pain can result from multiple medical conditions. The most common causes of joint pain are as follows:
- Osteoarthritis: This is a condition that occurs when the cartilage, a protective shock-absorbing cushion that occupies the space between the ends of the bones in a joint, wears away. Osteoarthritis usually affects joints of hands, knees, wrists and hips. Owing to the breakdown of cartilage, the joints become stiff and painful. The condition usually affects people over 40 years and the risk increases with age.
- Rheumatoid arthritis: RA is a chronic inflammatory condition in which an over-active immune system attacks the body's own tissues. The auto-immune disorder causes inflammation, swelling and pain in the joints. The joints (usually in wrists and fingers) affected by RA become deformed over time. The condition can strike at any age. Women are at a greater risk of RA than men.
- Gout: It is a type of arthritis that is associated with sudden and severe pain, swelling, tenderness and redness in joints. The condition occurs when the blood contains high levels of uric acid. The excess uric acid often accumulates in the joints in the form of sharp and needle-like urate crystals in the joints. It usually affects one joint (usually big toe) at a time. The condition can affect people over 30 and men are at a greater risk of gout than women. However, the risk of gout in women increases considerably after menopause.
- Tendinitis: It is a condition that is characterised by inflammation in the tendons (a fibrous connective tissue that attaches bones and muscles. Tendinitis usually affects tendons in knees, wrists, shoulders, elbows, and heels. In most cases, the pain caused by tendinitis subsides with medication, proper rest and physical therapy.
- Bursitis: It is a painful condition that is caused by inflammation in bursae (fluid-filled sacs around joints). Shoulders, hips, knee and elbows are commonly affected by bursitis. It is predominantly caused by repetitive and frequent motion.
- Injury: Pain in joints can also be caused by injuries such as broken bone, sprain (tearing of ligaments that connect bones in the joints) or dislocation (displacement of one or more bones from their normal positions in the joints).
Other causes of joint pain include:
- Adult Still's disease
- Ankylosing spondylitis
- Avascular necrosis
- Juvenile idiopathic arthritis
- Psoriatic arthritis
- Reactive arthritis
- Rheumatic fever
How is joint pain diagnosed?
The diagnosis procedure for joint pain will typically involve a physical exam. The physician may also ask certain questions related to the symptoms and your history of joint pain and other medical conditions. You may be asked to undergo a joint x-ray exam. This will help the physician identify if the joint pain is caused by damage from an arthritis-related condition.
Depending on the symptoms and other factors, your physician may also ask to get a blood test to check if the joint pain is caused by an inflammatory auto-immune disorder. A sedimentation rate test may also be requested to figure out inflammation levels in your body.
How is joint pain treated?
Depending on the underlying cause, a physician may prescribe treatment for joint pain. Once the cause is diagnosed, the physician may prescribe topical ointments (that contain capsaicin or methyl salicylate), medications such as anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen), pain relievers (acetaminophen), injections (steroids or hyaluronan), anti-depressants etc. to ease joint pain.
If the aforementioned treatment measures don't work, then invasive treatment options such as arthroscopy (a surgical procedure to repair joint cartilage) or joint replacement surgery may be recommended.
Are there any side effects?
As is the case with most medications, there are certain side effects that you should be vary of. If you have been prescribed antibiotics, you may develop a mild fever as a reaction to the medication. This is completely normal as antibiotics do tend to raise the temperature of the body a little bit.
Furthermore, if you are allergic to specific ingredients that are used in medicine or as medicine, such as penicillin (which is quite common in most pain relief drugs), you should mention it to your doctor as you may end up developing an allergy.
The allergy can present itself as dermatitis, sneezing, or even swelling in the throat and mouth and can be quite dangerous. Always be careful about the medication that you are taking.
What are the post-treatment guidelines?
The post-treatment guidelines depend largely on the reason for your joint pain. If you developed joint pain due to strenuous physical activity, you will be advised to rest and take it easy for a few days. Even when you get back into your normal routine, you will be required to ease your body into your daily exercise instead of starting off at the highest point you can manage.
If your joint pain is caused due to arthritis, your doctor will recommend several ways for you to manage your pain. You will be asked to avoid stressful activities, including walking for too long, as it puts unrequired pressure on your joints and causes them to get inflamed.
Often, people are advised to change their diets to include food products that are anti-inflammatory to make the condition a bit more manageable. There are no specific post treatment guidelines for joint pain that is caused by infections other than just to be hygienic and keep the area as clean as possible.
How to relieve joint pain?
There are certain measures that can help relieve joint pain. Some of those are:
- Home care: Certain chronic joint conditions such as Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis require long term pain management. Some simple tips that can help you manage joint pain resulting from such chronic joint condition are:
- Stretch your joint to maintain range of motion
- Use a brace or wrap to safeguard your joint
- Maintain a journal and note down activities that trigger joint pain; avoid those activities
- Use an elastic wrap to compress the joint
- Take frequent rests
- Apply heat or cold compression on the affected joint for at least 15 minutes (Do this multiple times daily)
- Physical Therapy: Physical therapy can help restore muscle strength around the joint, improve joint stability, and enhance the range of motion of joints. You can consult a physical therapist and opt for techniques such as ultrasound and electrical nerve stimulation to restore joint function and mobility. Similarly, you can also opt for supportive aids (such as cane or braces) to help your joint attain ease of movement.
- Weight loss: People who are overweight or obese are at a greater risk of joint problems. Excess body weight can adversely affect existing joint conditions and worsen the pain. To reduce joint pain, you should try to lose weight by leading a more active lifestyle and exercising regularly. Moderate and low impact exercises such as walking, swimming and cycling exercises can help you lose weight and improve joint mobility without putting excess pressure on joints. Also, follow a diet that includes more vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Limit intake of high calorie and processed foods, sugar, salt, alcohol, etc. Smokers should also try to reduce or quit smoking.
What vitamins are good for joint pain?
Regular intake of certain vitamins is associated with positive results for joint health. People with joint problems should consider consuming more of these vitamins to improve their joint health and get relief from joint pain.
- Vitamin A - Supports bone health
- Vitamin B-12 - Reduces homocysteine (an amino acid found in the body) that is associated with the risk of Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Vitamin B-1 - Supports muscle health
- Vitamin B-2 - Supports normal cell function, fights free radicals
- Vitamin B-3 - Reduces inflammation
- Vitamin B-6 - Fights inflammation
- Vitamin C - Protects against free radical damage, supports tissue health and wound recovery
- Vitamin D - Supports the absorption of calcium, fights inflammation
- Vitamin E - Supports the immune system, fights against free radicals
- Vitamin K - Reduces the risk of bone loss
- Zinc - Supports wound healing and tissue growth
What foods cause joint pain?
There are certain foods that are known to increase the likelihood of inflammation and pain in joints. Such foods are:
- Fried and processed foods
- Sugars and refined carbs
- Alcohol and tobacco
- Salt and preservatives
- Corn oil
How long does it take to recover?
Joint pain that is caused due to injury or infection can be treated in a matter of days, at most a few weeks, depending on the severity of the injury or infection. On the other hand, joint pain associated with arthritis comes and goes as is something that has to be managed throughout one’s life.
There is no permanent treatment for the same. Joint pain caused by strenuous physical activity also takes a few days to recover from. The effect of taking pain medications, however, is often immediate.
What is the price of the treatment in India?
Most pain relief medications cost under Rs 100 for a single leaf of pills. Antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications also cost under Rs 100. Arthritis medications range in cost from Rs 50 to Rs 150, depending on the type of medication that is prescribed as well as the dosage that you are required to take.
Are the results of the treatment permanent?
The results of the treatment for joint pain caused by arthritis is not permanent. The pain will come and go throughout your life as arthritis causes stiffness in the joints as well as swelling and there is bound to be some pain that comes with the same. The results of the treatment for joint pain caused by infections and injuries, on the other hand, is permanent.
Home remedies to relieve joint pain:
There are many home remedies that one can resort to in order to treat joint pain
- Using hot and cold compresses is a common way to deal with most muscular and bone pain and can work for joint pain as well.
- Essential oils with anti-inflammatory properties during a massage, or adding them to a diffuser can also help with joint pain.
- You can use oils such as clove essential oil, rosemary essential oil, peppermint essential oil, clary sage essential oil, and lavender essential oil.
- Furthermore, using herbal supplements can also help you manage joint pain.
- You can use gingko, stinging nettle, devil’s claw, or thunder god vine, as required.
- Scheduling regular massages can also help you a lot.
Of course, it is always advised to consult with your doctor before using any home remedies to prevent any adverse effects from occurring. You can consult with a herbalist for the same reasons as well.