What is Joint Pain?
Joint pain explained by Denver, Golden, Aurora, Boulder, Broomfield, Jefferson, and Littleton Colorado’s top pain doctors
Joints are points in the skeleton where two bones meet (and may interlock to a certain degree) in order to allow extremities to bend and flex. Pain in these structures can result in a lack of movement and normal function. Joint pain, also known as arthritis or arthralgia, is a widespread condition. Nearly a third of adults in the U.S. regularly experience joint pain.
Joint pain can be experienced differently from patient to patient, and is either acute or chronic. It can be relatively mild, or debilitating. Chronic joint pain can vary in intensity from day to day, or be at a constant, consistent level of pain.
Causes of Joint Pain
Joint pain can be a result of many diseases and disorders. Bursitis, in which the fluid-filled structure surrounding the muscles, tendons, and bones of the joint becomes inflamed, can also present as joint pain. A similar, often painful, condition affecting tendons (the tissue that connects bone to bone in a joint) is called tendinitis. Osteoarthritis is a condition in which the cartilage, the protective material that acts as a shock absorber in joints, is damaged. This occurs as a result of degeneration (wear and tear) over time, or an acute injury. Over time, osteoarthritis can result in the bones of the joint jarring against each other, instead of moving against cartilage as normal, which can cause chronic joint pain.
Conditions that involve the release of inflammatory molecules into joints, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, are also associated with joint pain. Joint pain is also a symptom of other diseases, such as hepatitis, Lyme disease, and influenza. Muscle strain or bone damage, which commonly occurs as a result of competitive training or injury, is also a factor. Bone fractures can also lead to joint pain. Most cases of joint pain are not a serious health concern. However, as joint pain can be a result of infections or disease (as above) it is recommended to alert a medical professional if it is accompanied by other symptoms, such as fever, unexpected and sudden weight loss, joint pain that is constant for several days, or other unusual health complaints.
Treatment for Joint Pain
The first line of treatment for joint pain is usually conventional oral medications, including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These drugs are effective in cases of bursitis, arthritis, or those caused by disease. Oral corticosteroids, such as prednisone and cortisone, are another example of drug therapy for joint pain. If these are ineffective, the physician and patient may discuss opioids as a next step in treatment. Opioids inhibit the pain receptors in the body. These drugs, for example codeine and morphine, thus reduce the reaction to and perception of pain, and make pain easier to live with. Opioids are strongly associated with temporary relief of acute and intense pain. Their use carries risks, however, including a high potential for addiction and possible adverse effects, which include respiratory difficulties and organ failure.
Patients who experience chronic, treatment-resistant joint pain, or who wish to avoid pharmacotherapy, have other options to manage their symptoms. There is evidence that the injection of corticosteroids directly into the affected joint is effective in reducing inflammation and pain. These procedures may require many repeat injections to achieve adequate pain relief. Steroid injections are recommended in cases of joint pain related to tendinitis, bursitis, arthritis, and other sources of inflammation. The risks of steroid injections are mostly related to the side-effects of these drugs. They include mood swings, possible weight gain, an increased risk of developing arthritis, and stomach ulcers. If steroid injections are to be considered, a thorough discussion of the risks and benefits with a physician and/or pain specialist is recommended beforehand.
Joint pain is a common condition, and may affect the bones therein or the other tissues that make up this structure. There are no permanent cures for joint pain, but many options to help manage and control it. Conventional pharmacotherapy is effective, but corticosteroid injections may succeed if this fails. Those with constant joint pain should discuss their symptoms and possible underlying conditions with a health professional in order to find the best pain management strategy for their individual case.
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