Definition & Overview
Joints are the areas where the bones connect. You can liken them to hinges: without them, bones will not function properly. However, sometimes these joints, which main function is to allow movement and provide mechanical support, can become painful for a number of reasons.
Joint pains could be a telltale sign of an underlying problem. They may mean you have osteoarthritis or arthritis, gout, or even cancer. This condition is also common for people who have fibromyalgia and psoriasis, especially if it affects the elbows and knees.
There is no singular cause of joint pains. In fact, it is possible to suffer from joint pain in various parts of the body for different reasons. For example, the swelling of your knees may be due to gout while that of your shoulder can be due to dislocation.
Normally, the causes fall into the following categories:
Inflammation: Inflammation is another body response to underlying medical conditions. It usually occurs when white blood cells in the body attack foreign threats such as viruses or bacteria. This explains why you develop a fever when you are sick. However, there are times when these cells activate even when there is no threat. Instead, they cause damage to the other cells and tissues of the body. Inflammation is what happens when you have arthritis, lupus, fibromyalgia, or psoriasis.
Dislocation: Simply put, the bones and the joints are not in their proper places. This can be because of a genetic deformity, injury, or trauma.
Aging: As you grow old, your bones and joints start to wear, so it is possible to feel pain in these areas once in a while.
Effusion: Joint effusion happens when there is an abnormal amount of fluid accumulating in the joints and the surrounding tissues.
Uric acid is another possible cause of joint pain and it’s related to gout. This acid is the by-product of purines, which can be found in many types of food including meat. Sometimes, when your diet is high in purines, the body creates a lot of uric acid that forms crystals. These crystals can be lodged in between the joints, causing pain.
Signs and Symptoms
Joint pains are often symptoms themselves to underlying causes or diseases. That is why they always warrant a more thorough investigation.
Nevertheless, you are more likely to be suffering from joint pains when the affected area is:
- Tender to touch
You should also consult your doctor if you:
- Have trouble walking or performing activities you used to do before
- Meet an accident or suffer an injury
- Have a history of injury or physical trauma
- Belong to a family with a history of joint-related diseases such as lupus, arthritis, or psoriasis
- Are diagnosed with a joint-related disease such as gout
- Develop fever, chills, fatigue, rashes, among others, along with the joint pains
- Lose some motion or develop numbness in the affected area
Since joint pain may be caused by many things, there is no single method of diagnosis. Normally, though, it involves a visit to a general practitioner who will conduct a preliminary examination. You may be requested to undergo an X-ray or an image scan, depending on the affected area or the severity of the pain. If the doctor suspects that the joint pain is caused by an infection, you will be required to undergo a series of blood tests.
Depending on the results of these examinations, the doctor may refer you to a specialist, such as an orthopedic surgeon, who can further investigate your condition.
Treatments for a joint pain can be conventional or alternative or both. You can minimize the soreness and inflammation by applying a hot compress, getting adequate rest, and reducing stress. Meanwhile, some medications are prescribed to relieve the pain, like anti-inflammatory drugs or to control the symptoms, like immune-suppressing drugs. These medications are often recommended when the pain is due to an autoimmune disease or an overactive immune system.
In some cases, surgery may be needed especially if the cause of joint pains is dislocated joint. Draining the fluid is also necessary when it is an effusion.