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Joint pain

Diagnosis of joint pain

At your appointment, let your doctor know which activities aggravate your joint pain and what tends to make it better, such as ice or heat. Include what medications, if any, help the pain. If an injury or other event preceded your symptoms, you should also describe this to your doctor.

Your doctor will examine your joint and may recommend additional testing to diagnose the source of the pain. This can include blood tests, x-rays, and joint aspiration to test the joint fluid (synovial fluid). After diagnosis, you and your doctor can map out the most appropriate treatment plan.


Mild joint pain can often be treated with compression, elevation, alternating heat and ice, and over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen and topical pain relievers.

If your joint pain is caused by overuse, examining your exercise activities or work environment can be helpful. Find ways to reduce impact or improve ergonomics. For example, if you work in an office, even steps as simple as changing the height of your keyboard or computer monitor can ease typing-related joint pain in the elbows, wrists, and neck.

Stretching before activity, losing weight, and staying physically active can all reduce the symptoms of chronic joint pain, such as arthritis or gout. Wearing a supportive brace and changing your form can reduce sports-related joint injuries.

Your doctor may also recommend medical interventions, depending on the cause of your joint pain. In some cases, medications may be needed to treat underlying conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, or some of the fluid may need to be removed to treat conditions like gout.

In rare cases, surgery to repair a damaged or aging joint may be needed. With age, joints may wear down or become drier and more brittle. This can eventually cause pain and deterioration and require specific treatment. Many joints, such as the knees and hips, can even be replaced surgically if necessary.

When to see a doctor for joint pain

Joint pain is often the result of an injury or overuse that can be treated with rest and at-home care. Most people experience joint pain at least once, and this kind of injury often does not require a hospital visit.

However, there are times when seeing a doctor is the smart move for managing joint pain. This includes any time joint pain is severe, the joint looks crooked or different than usual, or you can’t move the joint or put weight on it. You should also see a doctor if you have a fever, weight loss, or if the joint is hot and swollen.

Even for mild joint pain, it’s wise to get it checked out if the pain continues for more than two to three days, makes it hard for you to complete daily activities, or gets worse over time.

Dignity Health provides complete care for joint pain as part of our orthopedic services.

The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.