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If your joints are achy and stiff, here’s how to decide what treatment is best for you.

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Walking your dog, exercising, climbing the stairs and other everyday activities become challenging when your joints are stiff and painful. And when your joints hurt, you want to know what the best course of action is so you can get back to doing the things you enjoy. Fortunately, there are a number of treatments available for improving joint pain and your orthopedist or sports medicine specialist can help you decide which is best for you.

What causes joint pain?

Aging and/or years of vigorous exercise increase wear and tear on joints, raising your risk of developing arthritis. This joint disease develops when the protective cartilage at the ends of bones wears away. Arthritis can affect any joint in your body, but most often causes pain in the hands, feet, neck, lower back, hips or knees.

Joint pain may also be caused by an injury, joint abnormality, strained or sprained muscles, torn cartilage, tendonitis or bursitis. Thanks to people enjoying more active lifestyles, joint pain can even become a problem at a relatively young age. In fact, 25% of people over age 18 experience chronic joint pain, according to The Bone and Joint Initiative, while 40% of people older than 65 have joint pain.

When should you see an orthopedist about your joint pain?

Sometimes pain and stiffness in your joints is temporary and goes away by taking a rest from the activity causing pain, changing your form or technique, buying new shoes or equipment, taking over-the-counter pain medication or just giving it a little time. But it’s a good idea to pay a visit to an orthopedist or sports medicine specialist if you experience any of these issues:

    • You have difficulty walking or moving due to your painful joints
    • Medication doesn’t relieve your joint pain or causes unpleasant side effects
    • Joint pain negatively affects your life
    • You feel depressed or hopeless about your condition

What treatment options are available for joint pain?

The good news is that surgical options are not the first line of defense against joint pain. In fact, they are usually only recommended if pain hasn’t responded to other treatments and interferes with your ability to live a normal life. Even if your orthopedist suggests joint surgery, there are various surgical options available, with some being less invasive than others.

Here are common treatment options for joint pain:

    • Physical Therapy: This helps strengthen the muscles that support your joints, which can reduce stress and strain on the joints. It also aims to improve range of motion.
    • Corticosteroid Injections: This involves medication being injected directly into the affected joint to decrease pain and inflammation.
    • Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) Therapy: Injecting your own platelets is one of the newest ways to treat joint pain, although it is controversial. Platelets are blood cells that help heal injured joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments.
    • Arthroscopy: During this minimally invasive surgery, tiny surgical tools and a camera are inserted into a few small incisions to repair ligaments and cartilage or perform other procedures that affect joint function.
    • Synovectomy: Overgrowth or damage to the synovium, the lining of a joint, can trigger painful joint symptoms. Removing the synovium during open or arthroscopic surgery helps relieve pain.
    • Cartilage Transplant: This procedure replaces damaged cartilage with cartilage taken from another part of your body. It may also be possible to grow new cartilage cells in a lab, then insert them into your joint.
    • Joint Fusion: Fusing the bones in a joint with pins or plates makes the joint more stable, helping to ease pain.
    • Joint Resurfacing: This procedure smoothes damaged cartilage in the hip, knee or shoulder. It may be recommended for people who need surgical relief for joint pain but are not yet ready for joint replacement.
    • Joint Replacement Surgery: This surgery involves replacing your joint with an artificial joint and is usually a last resort option. Depending on the joint and the severity of your condition, traditional or minimally invasive joint surgery may be used.

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Date Last Reviewed: April 15, 2021

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

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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