Many Americans live with joint pain. If your joints hurt, you want to find the cause of the pain so you can treat it. But joint pain may come from inside the affected joint or structures outside of it. Many types of joint pain are caused by medical conditions such as arthritis, but some result from diseases such as Lyme disease.
Regardless of your joint pain's cause, this type of discomfort can be debilitating. Joint pain may limit your range of motion and make it difficult to perform normal activities, and it can wear you down psychologically. Even if you have joint pain that doesn't interfere with your life, it may still be a good idea to see your doctor. A physician or advanced-practice clinician can help you determine the cause of your pain and decide which treatment options may be right for you.
Common Types of Joint Pain
In many cases, joint pain is caused by arthritis. This medical condition results from the breakdown of cartilage inside the joint itself, which causes the bones forming the joint to rub together. The joint then becomes inflamed and stiff, making it difficult to move.
As many as 27 million Americans are affected by arthritis. Two types of arthritis affect joints more than others: osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis results from normal wear and tear that occurs over multiple years. In some cases, this condition is caused by overuse or an injury to the joint itself. People living with rheumatoid arthritis have an abnormal immune system response to healthy body tissues, including the joints. In either case, arthritis often leads to movement limitations, stiffness, and pain.
Between your muscles, bones, and tendons exist small, fluid-filled sacs that act as cushions, helping to protect these structures from the normal wear and tear that occurs over time. These small sacs are called "bursa," and it's possible for them to become inflamed and develop into a condition known as bursitis.
Bursitis is usually the result of overuse, certain infections, or injuries. The exact cause of bursitis is often unknown. For many people, bursitis causes substantial pain and reduces their ability to move normally.
Within your body, fibrous structures called tendons anchor your muscles to your bones. Tendons are present in many joints, and when they become inflamed, they can cause joint discomfort. In many cases, tendinitis occurs because of overuse of a specific joint. Certain medical conditions, such as diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis, can also lead to tendinitis.
When to See Your Doctor
Be proactive in monitoring your joint pain and range of motion. If you suspect your condition is worsening or you begin to have trouble moving normally, talking with your doctor can prevent more damage from occurring and preserve your joint's normal function.
It's especially important to see your doctor if:
- You have joint pain in more than one location.
- You notice any joints becoming swollen, red, or warm to the touch.
Other symptoms may indicate your joint pain is the result of certain diseases. You should let your doctor know immediately if you experience any of the following:
- Abdominal pain.
- Redness or pain in your eyes.
- Rashes, blotches, or spots on your skin.
- New sores on your body.
When your joints hurt, you want to find out the cause so you can best relieve the pain. Orthopedic specialists offer many services that are designed to address pain issues and get you moving again. If you're concerned about your joint pain but aren't sure whether to see your doctor, take this online health risk assessment, which can help you identify symptoms that need further investigation.