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Are your joints painful or inflamed? Here’s what may be causing the discomfort.

Joints are essential for all types of movement. These often-used parts of the body form connections between bones and provide support and stability so you can move. Every part of the body that you can bend, flex and rotate, from your feet and ankles to your knees, hips and shoulders, contains joints. And these joints can experience pain and inflammation for several reasons.

Have painful joints? This may be why:
  1. Osteoarthritis – This is one of the most common causes of joint pain, especially as you age. It results from wear and tear that causes the cartilage (the lining of the joints) to be worn down. The joints most commonly affected are the knees, hips and hands.
  2. Rheumatoid arthritis – This is an autoimmune condition that causes pain and inflammation in your joints. It is very different than osteoarthritis in that it occurs when your body mistakenly attacks its own tissues. Other autoimmune conditions, such as lupus, may also cause joint pain.
  3. Gout – This is another form of arthritis, although it mostly affects the joint in your big toe. It may also cause pain, redness and swelling in your hand, wrist or knee, but this is not as likely.
  4. Bursitis – This occurs when sacs of fluid in your joints that help provide cushioning get inflamed, causing pain.
  5. Tendonitis – This causes inflammation of the fibrous cords that attach muscles to bone around your joints.
  6. Injuries – If you experience an orthopedic injury, it can result in pain in your joints. Sprains and strains are among the most common injuries. Partially or fully torn tendons and ligaments also result in joint pain. An injury to the meniscus is a common cause of knee pain.

In addition to pain, you may also experience swelling, inflammation, stiffness, loss of mobility and diminished range of motion. The severity of your symptoms may vary greatly. Joint pain can be mild or it can be so painful that it greatly affects your quality of life. It may be short lived or chronic.

Treatments for Joint Pain

There are a number of different treatment options for joint pain. These include:

  • Oral medications – Over-the-counter and prescription nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may provide pain relief and reduce inflammation. Stronger prescription drugs, including opioids, muscle relaxants and some antidepressants, may help with severe or chronic pain, but should be used under the strict supervision of a doctor and only when necessary.
  • Topical medications – Some people find relief from arthritis pain by using topical creams and gels that contain ingredients like capsaicin or methyl salicylate.
  • Injectable medications – Steroid medications can be injected into affected joints every few months. This treatment is most often used with people who have arthritis or tendonitis. Other injectable treatments, such as platelet-rich plasma therapy, hyaluronic acid or prolotherapy, may help some people who don’t get relief from more traditional treatments.
  • Physical therapy – You’ll learn how to strengthen muscles around the affected joint and will also work to improve range of motion and stability. Other modalities, such as ultrasound, electrical nerve stimulation, manipulation and heat or cold therapy may also help.
  • Losing weight – If you are overweight, losing even a small amount of weight can take some of the pressure off your joints.
  • Exercising – Low impact exercises, such as swimming and bicycling, can help improve strength and mobility without putting excess pressure on your joints.
  • Home remedies – There are several things you can do at home that may help ease joint pain. Try rest, ice, elevation, compression and wearing a wrap or brace.

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Date Last Reviewed: December 19, 2023

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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