What do we call joint pain?

Joint pain is the pain located in the joints, resulting from the pathology of the joint itself, surrounding structures (such as ligaments, tendons or synovial bursae), and sometimes for other reasons, not directly related to the join. It is one of the most common ailments. If it passes spontaneously within a few days, it usually does not mean serious illness. However, it should be remembered that it can be a symptom of various diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or systemic lupus erythematosus. Therefore, if the joint pain does not go away in a few days or if it is accompanied by other disturbing symptoms (eg swelling of the joint, fever, morning stiffness of joints etc.), do not hesitate to visit a doctor.

What are the causes of joint pain?

There are many causes of joint pain – they can be roughly divided into non-inflammatory (caused by, for example, mechanical damage etc. see here) and inflammatory (associated with inflammation in joint tissues and periarticular).

Most often joint pain is associated with overloading of surrounding structures (tendons, ligaments and joint capsules), eg after intense physical work or exercises.

In older people, a common cause of joint pain is degenerative disease. It should be remembered, however, that inflammatory diseases such as rheumatic polymyalgia or rheumatoid arthritis also occur in this age group.

Joint pain in younger people, especially if it is accompanied by other disturbing symptoms, should always suggest suspicion of inflammatory joint disease and requires further diagnosis.

When determining the diagnosis, the doctor will ask you to specify:

  • duration of complaints
  • was there a specific cause causing joint pain, e.g. injury, overload, repetitive micro-injuries (professional work, recreational sports), other illness
  • how many and which joints ache, if the pain is symmetrical (occurs in the same locations on both sides of the body)

what is the nature of the pain:

  • “Mechanical” – caused by joint movement, the most intense when starting an activity (eg hip pain when getting up from a chair); Ailments do not occur at rest
  • “Inflammatory” – typical ailments are the biggest in the morning, they can awaken the patient from sleep; the pain gradually fades after getting started
  • whether they are accompanied by: swelling, stiffness and limitation of joint mobility or other disturbing symptoms (unreasonable weight loss, fever, fatigue, increased sweating at night)
  • are there other diseases (eg thyroid, liver, intestinal disorders, uveitis, psoriasis)
  • whether there were joint diseases in the family.

What should you pay attention to?

Urgent contact with a doctor is necessary if:

  • joint pain is accompanied by swelling, redness or warming of the joint and limitation of its mobility
  • In the morning you have a problem with moving around for over an hour
  • there are so-called general symptoms such as fatigue, fever, muscle pain, loss of appetite or weight loss
  • joint pain increases during the night and wakes you up from sleep
  • other disturbing symptoms will occur.

How to proceed?

The treatment of joint pain depends on its cause. The following methods will help reduce joint pain.

Unloading the joint. In the case of acute joint pain, its excessive activity should be reduced so as not to cause further damage. After resolving strong ailments, exercises should be performed to strengthen the joint and improve its mobility (preferably under the supervision of a physiotherapist).

Ice compresses (you can buy in the pharmacy special reusable gels) reduce the symptoms of arthritis. They are performed 2-3 times a day for 15 minutes.

Analgesics (paracetamol, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs used orally or topically) – they can be used alone for several days, not exceeding the recommended doses. If the pain persists despite their use, please contact your doctor.

When to report to the doctor?

It should be remembered that joint pain may be a symptom of various joint diseases requiring rapid diagnosis and treatment. So do not hesitate to go to the doctor if the joint pain persists in a few days or is accompanied by other disturbing symptoms (see: What to look for?).

What tests should be performed to determine the causes of joint pain?

The doctor should decide what tests should be performed (based on the information and symptoms collected from the patient on the examination of joints). Different laboratory tests are used in the diagnostics of rheumatological diseases (most often ESR and morphology, see: Laboratory tests used in rheumatology) and imaging (most often at the beginning an X-ray or USG of a sick joint is ordered). In some cases, it is necessary to perform other tests, eg joint puncture (to collect for analysis of synovial fluid), computed tomography or magnetic resonance imaging.

How is joint pain treated?

To properly treat joint pain, you need to determine its cause. The treatment of individual rheumatic diseases is discussed in the descriptions of these disease entities.