A joint is anyplace where at least two bones in your body meet, so your body has a lot of joints—and that means a lot of possible places to suffer from joint pain. "You feel an ache in your knee as you walk up stairs, stiff or swollen fingers or a pinch in your back as you bend over. Those can all be possible signs of joint pain," says Steven L. Smith, MD, a family medicine physician with
St. Joseph Heritage Medical Group in Tustin.
The causes of joint pain are almost as numerous as the joints in your body, Dr. Smith adds. "With various types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis, the cartilage tissue lining the joints can become inflamed or wear away, causing pain. A broken or dislocated bone may also damage the joint. Poor posture, aging and repetitive movements can hasten wear and tear. And joints can also be affected by several types of other health problems, including fibromyalgia, bone cancer, lupus, Lyme disease and gout."
Joint pain symptoms range from swelling and redness to warmth in the joint area, severe pain and the inability to use the joint. If you suspect you have joint pain, no matter the cause, you should consult with your physician, Dr. Smith adds, especially if it causes fever or weight loss, comes out of nowhere and lasts longer than three days.
"In some cases, your physician may suggest an over-the-counter medication called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, which includes ibuprofen and naproxen," Dr. Smith says. "That can help with the pain; if it doesn't, you may be prescribed stronger medication. Your doctor may also refer you to a physical therapist or suggest a course of stretches and exercises to help the joints. Warm baths and massages may also help manage the severity of joint pain, depending on the cause."
If at-home treatment doesn't help, or the joint pain is severe or advanced, surgery or other medical procedures may be a possibility. "For instance, an osteotomy involves cutting the bone to realign the joint and prevent more damage, while arthrocentesis drains built-up fluid from a joint with a needle and syringe," Dr. Smith says. "There is also joint-replacement surgery, such as knee or hip replacement, which uses a prosthesis. Almost 1 million joint-replacement surgeries are done annually in the United States. They usually include a hospital stay, physical therapy, and recommended diet and exercise guidelines to help your body adjust to and regain motion with the prosthesis."
If you suspect you have a problem with your joints, Dr. Smith urges you not to ignore it in the hope it just goes away. "Joint pain can signal a larger health issue, hamper your daily life or cause pain that can lead to immobility," Dr. Smith says. "Getting it checked out now may save you problems down the road."
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