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Joint pain

Medically reviewed on January 11, 2018

Definition

Joint pain can be discomfort, pain or inflammation arising from any part of a joint — including cartilage, bone, ligaments, tendons or muscles. Most commonly, however, joint pain refers to arthritis or arthralgia, which is inflammation or pain from within the joint itself.

Joint pain can be mild, causing soreness only after certain activities, or it can be severe, making even limited movement, particularly bearing weight, extremely painful.

Causes

Causes of joint pain include:

  • Adult Still's disease
  • Ankylosing spondylitis
  • Avascular necrosis (death of bone tissue due to limited blood flow)
  • Bone cancer
  • Broken bone
  • Bursitis (joint inflammation)
  • Complex regional pain syndrome (chronic pain due to a dysfunctional nervous system)
  • Dislocation
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Gonococcal arthritis
  • Gout (arthritis related to excess uric acid)
  • Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
  • Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (formerly known as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis)
  • Leukemia
  • Lupus
  • Lyme disease
  • Osteoarthritis (disease causing the breakdown of joints)
  • Osteomyelitis (a bone infection)
  • Paget's disease of bone
  • Polymyalgia rheumatica
  • Pseudogout
  • Psoriatic arthritis
  • Reactive arthritis
  • Rheumatic fever
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (inflammatory joint disease)
  • Rickets
  • Sarcoidosis (collections of inflammatory cells in the body)
  • Septic arthritis
  • Sprains and strains
  • Tendinitis

When to see a doctor

Joint pain is rarely an emergency. Most cases of mild joint pain can be successfully managed at home.

Make an appointment with your doctor if your joint pain is accompanied by:

  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Tenderness and warmth around the joint

See a doctor immediately if your joint pain is caused by an injury and is accompanied by:

  • Joint deformity
  • Inability to use the joint
  • Intense pain
  • Sudden swelling

Self-care

When caring for mild joint pain at home, follow these tips:

  • Try an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or naproxen sodium (Aleve).
  • Avoid using your joint in ways that cause or worsen pain.
  • Apply ice or a package of frozen peas to your painful joint for 15 to 20 minutes a few times each day.
  • Apply a heating pad, soak in a warm tub or take a warm shower to relax muscles and increase circulation.

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