Joint pain and soreness in the shoulders, hips, elbows, and knees can have a dramatic negative impact on your ability to perform basic daily functions. Known medically as arthralgia or as polyarthralgia if it affects multiple joints, this pain can be caused by acute injuries, illnesses, or underlying conditions such as arthritis. Most minor joint pain can be treated successfully at home, but if your discomfort is getting in the way of your ability to enjoy your life, it might be time to make an appointment at a pain management center.
Causes of Joint Pain
There are a variety of joint pain causes, with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis leading the pack as far as frequency. Osteoarthritis is extremely common in adults over the age of 40 and tends to impact the wrists, hands, hips, and knees more than other joints in the body. The reason this condition can be so painful is that it causes the breakdown of the body’s cartilage, which is supposed to act as a cushion for these and other joints.
Rheumatoid arthritis also constitutes a common cause of joint pain in America, affecting around 1.5 million patients across the country. Women are more likely to suffer from rheumatoid arthritis than men, experiencing joint inflammation, pain, and flare-ups that can leave their joints deformed and debilitated. If you’re struggling with rheumatoid arthritis, our pain management doctors can help you establish a treatment plan that can help.
While the majority of patients suffering from joint pain are struggling with one of the forms of arthritis described above, there are plenty of other less common causes of this discomfort. Bursitis, which causes an inflammation of the cushioning around patients’ joints, gout, lupus, tendinitis, cancer, fibromyalgia, osteoporosis, sarcoidosis, rickets, chondromalacia, and infections can all cause joint pain. Acute injuries, certain infectious diseases like mumps, hepatitis and influenza, and tendinitis can all wind up causing joint pain as a secondary symptom as well, as can simple overuse.
When to See Medical Help
If the cause of your joint pain is obvious such as an acute injury or a bout of influenza and its symptoms are manageable, it may be more practical to treat it at home. There are, however, plenty of circumstances under which it is absolutely necessary to seek joint pain relief from a dedicated specialist. If the joint is visibly swollen, tender, or hot to the touch or it persists for at least three days, chances are there’s another underlying condition to blame for the pain.
It’s also important to note that some forms of joint pain really require immediate help. If your joint appears deformed, has been completely immobilized, or has been severely injured, it’s always best to head to the emergency room. It may still be necessary to seek specialized joint pain care, but it’s always best to rule out a serious injury or illness as quickly as possible.
When at-home care doesn’t provide enough relief, you can rest assured that our highly-skilled and specialized medical team can offer you alternatives for managing your pain and restoring your mobility. Treatment options will vary depending on the root cause of your pain and inflammation and may include medications, topical agents, injections, physical therapy, and lifestyle modifications.
OTC and Prescription Medications
If your pain is mild, you may want to try over-the-counter NSAIDs such as ibuprofen, aspirin, or naproxen sodium. If you’ve already tried these readily-available solutions and have not found relief, there are several types of prescription drug that have been proven to help. These include narcotic painkillers, muscle relaxants, and even some antidepressant and antiepileptic drugs that have been proven to interfere with the brain’s ability to process pain signals.
Capsaicin cream has developed a well-deserved reputation for alleviating joint pain when applied topically. It works by blocking substance P, which is responsible for transmitting pain signals to the brain, and by triggering the release of endorphins. If your joint pain is due to arthritis, methyl salicylate creams such as Ben Gay may also help.
If you’ve tried oral and topical medications and have not found them to be sufficiently effective, we may suggest an injectable steroid medication. These must be applied in our office every three to four months, as they provide only temporary relief. Steroids have been proven to help alleviate pain and swelling in patients suffering from arthritis, tendinitis, and joint disease, in particular, so if you are struggling with one of these disorders you may want to inquire about them during your consultation.
If your joint pain is caused by osteoarthritis, injections of hyaluronan may be recommended either in conjunction with steroids or as an alternative to them. This fluid acts as a synthetic version of your body’s natural joint fluid, which deteriorates as osteoarthritis progresses. In certain other cases, it may be necessary to instead remove fluid from the joint, which can also be accomplished via a simple, minimally-invasive procedure.
Working with a physical therapist can help you strengthen the muscles surrounding your joints, stabilize them, and even improve your range of motion. Techniques employed by physical therapists for treating joint pain include manual manipulation, ultrasound therapy, heat and cold therapy, and electrical nerve stimulation. Our dedicated physical therapists can also suggest strengthening exercises and stretches that may ease your discomfort without placing you at risk of reinjury.
Depending on the cause of your joint pain, we may also recommend that you make certain lifestyle changes. For example, patients who are overweight may find that losing weight helps to alleviate some of the pressure on their joints. Exercise and a healthy diet are typically enough to lose weight, but it’s important that those who are suffering from joint pain stick to low-impact exercises recommended by our physical therapists, as this will prevent further joint irritation.
Similarly, if you are suffering from joint pain due to overuse, we may recommend periods of rest or targeted stretches and strengthening exercises. Certain dietary modifications can also help to alleviate joint pain depending on its cause. No matter why you are in pain, though, you can rest assured that our dedicated team of doctors and medical professionals can help.