Common causes of joint pain and how you can address it
Whether you’re experiencing joint pain all over or symptoms in just your knees, hips, wrists, or other joints, finding the cause is an important start to getting treatment and relief.
Here are some common causes of joint pain.
Inflammation - Inflammation is a possible cause of joint pain . Joint inflammation may follow an injury or infection—or result from an autoimmune disease. Treating the underlying reason for inflammation may reduce or eliminate your pain. Test your levels of hs-CRP, an inflammation marker.
Heavy metal exposure - Exposure to cadmium, a heavy metal, can cause a condition called osteomalacia in women —and lead to joint pain . Osteomalacia occurs when your bones erode at a faster rate than they can be rebuilt. Check for heavy metal exposure.
Vitamin deficiencies - Osteoarthritis—a condition involving the breakdown of cartilage between bones—can result in joint pain. Low levels of nutrients like vitamin D can contribute to the progression of knee osteoarthritis , leading to knee pain. Sunlight is the best source of vitamin D production in the body, so if you don’t get enough time in the sun, your vitamin D level may be too low . Other risk factors for low vitamin D include older age, darker skin color, and certain conditions that affect vitamin D metabolism (like chronic kidney disease) . Easily check your vitamin D levels.
Injury - Injuries are a common cause of sudden joint pain. If you're an athlete, your joint pain may be linked to a sports injury. Some older adults develop joint pain after slipping or falling. Auto accidents are another possible cause of joint pain.
Infection - Sometimes, bacteria or other germs can enter your body through an open wound. If this opening is near a joint, the tissues in your joint can get infected—and cause severe joint pain [7, 8].
Overuse - Many athletes develop injuries due to joint overuse —or repetitive strain injury . But athletes aren't the only people affected by this. Anyone who stands or sits for extended periods of time may also experience joint pain. Your healthcare provider can give you information about avoiding repetitive strain injuries.
Arthritis is a general term that describes many different types of joint disease caused by joint inflammation . The most common form of arthritis, known as osteoarthritis, affects millions of Americans . Other forms of arthritis include rheumatoid arthritis (which commonly affects multiple joints at the same time ) and psoriatic arthritis (which develops in people with psoriasis, a skin condition).
Autoimmune diseases—like lupus—occur when your immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues in the body, which can trigger chronic joint inflammation and pain.
Bursae are tiny, fluid-filled sacs that help cushion your joints. Sometimes, these sacs become irritated or swollen. This condition is known as bursitis. Most cases are linked to repetitive motion, but injuries can also cause bursitis.
Your tendons are thick cords that attach your muscles to your bones. Tendinitis occurs when your tendons become inflamed. This inflammation is often caused by injury or overuse.
Fibromyalgia is a complex condition that can cause widespread joint pain . This pain may come with fatigue, memory problems, or mood changes. Symptoms of fibromyalgia often appear after an illness or injury. Researchers aren't sure what causes this condition, and there is currently no cure, but treatment can help you manage your symptoms.
As you age, you may experience bone loss. This condition is known as osteoporosis and typically affects women over age 50. But men and younger adults can develop osteoporosis, too.
If you have osteoporosis, you are at a higher risk of fractures. Even minor injuries can result in a severely broken bone. Fortunately, osteoporosis treatment can help slow down or reverse bone loss.
Arthritis and joint pain: The CDC reports that close to 15 million U.S. adults have severe joint pain connected with arthritis .
Many people experience some joint pain every now and then. But if you have chronic joint pain, see a healthcare provider for further care. Seek medical attention right away if you have joint pain after a sports injury, auto accident, or fall. Your pain might be a sign of a bone fracture or tendon rupture, which requires immediate care.
When you see your provider for joint pain, they may perform a physical exam. They might also ask about your medical history. If you have a family history of arthritis or autoimmune disease, be sure to tell your healthcare provider.
In some cases, your healthcare provider may refer you to a specialist for further tests and treatment.
Your provider or specialist can help you create a personalized treatment plan. Your plan may include joint pain medication, surgery, or physical therapy.
Resting your joint may allow your body to heal and help swelling go down. You may also take pain relievers to reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation. Consult your healthcare provider before taking over-the-counter drugs.
Ice packs or heating pads may reduce your joint pain. Taking a warm bath, using a sauna, or getting a massage can also help. But these treatments may not be safe for everyone. Ask your healthcare provider for advice before applying ice or heat.
Maintaining a healthy weight also helps protect your joints. Regular exercise can be beneficial because it can help lower your weight and strengthen the muscles around your joints.
Testing for heavy metal exposure at home: The Everlywell Heavy Metals Test measures 4 toxic chemicals that can put your health at risk—including cadmium, which can cause joint pain.
How is joint pain treated?
Joint pain sometimes resolves on its own, and at-home care may relieve your pain. But if your symptoms persist, you might need to see a healthcare provider. Some people with joint pain might need to see a specialist for expert care.
Your treatment plan will depend on which condition is causing your pain. You might need to take medication or undergo physical therapy. Your provider can help you choose the treatment that's best for you.
What causes joint pain?
Many different health conditions can contribute to joint pain, including vitamin D deficiency and inflammation. Finding the cause isn’t always easy, but at-home lab tests—and talking with your healthcare provider—may help.
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