Joint pain is a generic term used to describe discomfort and pain stimuli which originates from the joint or joint space. And, joint pain can be caused by several different types of injuries or conditions. However, no matter what the cause, it is usually bothersome and uncomfortable, if not downright painful.
Joint pain can be caused from one of the over 100 different types of arthritic conditions which can affect the human body. The most common of these arthritic conditions is osteoarthritis which affects approximately 27 million Americans alone. Rheumatoid arthritis is another common autoimmune disorder that causes stiffness and pain in the joints. (1)
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Joint pain can also be caused by bursitis which is the generic term to describe any inflammation of the bursa. The bursa are fluid filled sacs that cushion and protect bony prominences in the body and allow the muscle and tendons to move freely over the bone. When the bursa becomes inflamed, motion of the muscle and tendon over the joint surface will cause pain and discomfort.
Gout is another form of arthritis which can cause pain in the joints. Individuals can also suffer from septic arthritis in which an infection resides in the joint space setting up an inflammatory process that includes bacterial growth. Osteomyelitis, tendinitis, chondromalacia patella, lupus, fractures and strains and sprains round out the causes of joint pain which originate in the joint space or surrounding area.
There are several different infectious diseases which can also cause joint pain but are not limited to the joint itself. For instance, hepatitis, measles and mumps all have the side effect of causing joint pain. Other infectious diseases which will cause pain in the joints include rubella, chickenpox, rheumatic fever, Epstein-Barr virus, influenza and lyme disease. Individuals who suffer from sickle cell disease will experience joint pain during a flareup. People who are going through steroid drug withdrawal will have pain in their joints related to the withdrawal of medication which has suppressed inflammation and individuals who are suffering from a septic necrosis, death of the head of the bone without bacterial infection, will also experience significant joint pain.
For the most part joint pain is caused by inflammation that occurs in and around the joint space. This inflammation is the body’s basic response to some type of injury and should be a wake-up call to the individual that something must be done or changed in the daily routine. The inflammation is a result of a sequence of complicated events the body uses to defend itself and is initiated for the purpose of tissue repair.
In some cases joint pain can be treated at home with rest, ice, compression and elevation, often abbreviated R.I.C.E. However, when an individual suffers from fever that is not associated with flulike symptoms, they have lost 10 pounds or more without trying or joint pain lasts for more than three days they should seek the care of their primary care physician in order to receive an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment. For instance, an individual who has a known the ankle sprain and is treating it with R.I.C.E. but subsequently experiences low grade fever with no improvements in the ankle should immediately seek the care of their physician.
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It is important to follow prescribed therapies to address the underlying cause of the joint pain while decreasing the overall pain. Depending upon the medical condition, both rest and exercise are important. Consult your primary care physician or physical therapist about the use of warm baths, massage and stretching exercises coupled with anti-inflammatory medications, ice and compression.
During an office visit the physician will attempt to identify the underlying cause of the joint pain in order to develop a treatment protocol which will result in the best possible success. This office visit will entail a thorough medical history and physical examination. Depending upon what the physician finds during these two initial steps they may recommend blood tests to evaluate for certain factors that may point them in the right direction and will probably recommend imaging studies such as x-ray, bone scan and MRI to more accurately see the problem.
An accurate diagnosis and is required to recommend the appropriate treatment protocol. Some minor sprains and strains are often treated well at home using rest, ice, compression and elevation. However, when these steps do not result in immediate improvement it is time to seek the advice of a trained professional.