Essentially, your joints form the connection between your bones. Aside from providing support, they also help make movement possible.
That being said, it would be safe to assume that any damage to your joint, regardless if it’s from injury or disease, will not only cause a lot of pain but will also likely to interfere with movement. Painful joints can be attributed to several conditions — osteoarthritis, gout, sprains, rheumatoid arthritis, injuries, strains, and bursitis, to name a few.
Joint pain is very common, so common that a national survey conducted revealed that at least one-third of the respondents reported experiencing joint pain within the past 30 days. Knee pain was ranked as the most prevalent complaint, followed by hip and shoulder pain.
However, joint pain can affect any parts of the body, from the shoulders and the hands down to the ankles and the feet. While it is unfortunate to note, joint pain can occur more often as one gets older. Pain in the joint can range from irritating to debilitating. It can linger for several weeks or months (chronic) or it can disappear after three weeks (acute).
Unfortunately, even joint pain that is short-term can often already affect the quality of your life.
Managing Joint Pain
In most cases, joint pain is managed using medications, physical therapy, and alternative treatments.
For joint pain that is moderate to severe (with swelling), prescription or over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Profen), or naproxen sodium (Naprosyn) are often prescribed. Others include celecoxib (Celebrex) or rofecoxib (Arcoxia). If joint pain is mild and there is no swelling, acetaminophen (Tylenol) is often given.
For severe pain that does not respond to NSAIDs, a stronger opioid medication will be prescribed. However, since opioid drugs can cause drowsiness, it is often only used under the doctor’s supervision.
Other medications that can help relieve joint pain can include:
- Some antiepileptic drugs and antidepressants – both are known to work by interfering with the pain signals.
- Muscle relaxants (eg. Anarex) are used to treat muscles spasms – are sometimes used with NSAIDs to increase effectiveness.
A substance found in chilli peppers called capsaicin is believed to help relieve joint pain brought about by arthritis and other conditions. Capsaicin works by blocking substance P, which is known to help transmit pain signals. It also triggers the release of endorphins, the chemicals in the body that helps block pain. While considered effective in relieving joint pain, capsaicin creams can sometimes cause stinging and burning in the areas where they are applied.
If oral or topical medications do not offer the needed pain relief, injecting a steroid medication into the joint every 3 to 4 months might be suggested. The procedure is the common treatment option among patients with tendinitis, joint disease, and arthritis.
Working with a physical therapist is considered ideal if you want to stabilize your joint, strengthen the muscles around it, and improve your motion range. The therapist will employ techniques like heat or cold therapy, manipulation, and electrical nerve stimulation.
If you are overweight, losing the excess pounds can help ease the pain as it relieves some of the pressure off the joint. While exercise (together with diet) is an effective way to lose the excess weight, it would be best to stick only to low-impact exercises so you don’t end up irritating the joint further. Bicycling and swimming are two of the best exercise options you can consider as they allow you to exercise the joints without any impact.
Some research indicates that glucosamine and chondroitin supplements can help improve joint function and ease joint pain. Both substances are components found in the normal cartilage. Glucosamine and chondroitin supplements are available in powder, tablet, capsule, and liquid form.
Viscosupplements (gel) can be injected into joints that are arthritic with the aim of delaying surgery.
While the supplements don’t always work for everyone, many are willing to give them a try as they have no known side effects.
Visiting Your Doctor
While joints pains can be harmless, a visit to your doctor is crucial in the following scenarios:
- You have a fever that is not associated with flu
- You have lost 10 pounds or more without trying (unintended weight loss)
- You have unexplained and severe joint swelling and pain
- Your joint pain has lasted for more than 3 days
Upon your visit, a physical exam will be performed and you will be asked questions about your symptoms and medical history.
Some of the questions you will likely be asked can include:
- Which joint hurts?
- Have you experienced the pain before? How often have you had it?
- Did the pain start slowly or suddenly? Is it mild or severe?
- Does the pain come and go or is it constant?
- Does moving or resting make the pain better or worse? Do certain positions offer comfort?
- What other symptoms have you noticed?
- Have you experienced any numbness?
- Does the joint feel stiff? Can you still straighten and bend it comfortably?
When the need calls for it, the following tests may also be required:
- Blood differential or FBC
- Sedimentation rate or ESR
- C-reactive protein or CRP
- Joint X-ray
- Blood tests (to rule out various autoimmune disorders)