Joint pain can affect any part of a joint, including bone, cartilage, ligament, tendon or muscle. It can be mild, causing only slight discomfort, or debilitating to the point that daily tasks become difficult. In most cases, mild joint pain can be managed with at-home remedies, but if the pain is caused by severe damage to the joints, physical therapy or surgery may be necessary.
- Limited range of motion
- A healthy diet can help control weight and reduce excess pressure on the joints.
- Staying physically active helps keep the muscles in the joints strong and healthy.
- Losing weight can help reduce pressure on some joints. Each excess pound of weight causes four pounds of pressure on the knees, for example.
- Take precautions when playing sports. Use the right gear and equipment, warm up and stretch, and if an injury occurs, never “play through the pain.”
- Infections in the bones or joints
- Inflammation in the joint
- Injuries such as fractures
- Overuse or exertion of the joint
- Some autoimmune diseases, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis
- Medical history and symptom review. The healthcare provider will review symptoms, previous injuries and lifestyle, as well as steps that have been taken to relieve joint pain.
- Physical examination. The healthcare provider will examine the joints to determine the cause for the joint pain. He or she might ask the patient to bend a joint or move the body to determine range of motion.
- Imaging studies. The healthcare provider may recommend an X-ray, CT, ultrasound or MRI to examine the joint and determine the cause of the pain.
- Blood tests. A complete blood count measures the amount of red and white blood cells in the blood. A blood differential test measures each type of white blood cell, while also looking for abnormal or immature white blood cells. This test may be performed if the healthcare provider suspects joint pain is due to gout or rheumatoid arthritis.
Conservative treatments include rest, warm baths or heat compresses, ice, massage, stretching exercises, and over-the-counter pain or anti-inflammatory medications.
Other treatments include corticosteroid injections and physical therapy.
Surgical options include:
- Joint resurfacing or partial joint replacement
- Fusion surgery, which uses hardware to permanently connect bones together. This procedure is performed in the ankle, wrist, fingers or spine.
- Total joint replacement
- If joint pain is being treated conservatively, patients will continue to check in with their healthcare provider regularly. If pain gets worse or isn’t relieved with conservative options, a follow-up appointment should be scheduled.
- If joint pain is treated with physical therapy, follow the physical therapist’s recommendations for at-home stretches and exercises.
If the patient has surgery:
- Some patients have to spend a few days in the hospital, but others can go home the day of the procedure.
- A family member, friend or caregiver may need to help patients around the house while they recover from surgery.
- Patients will be given pain medications to help them recover with less pain.
- Patients should follow the surgeon’s recommendations for restricted activity as they recover.