What is Joint Pain?

Joint pain is a condition that affects the area where two or more bones are connected. Joint pain may also be referred to as arthritis or arthralgia, and is a very common condition. In 2006, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) conducted a national survey and found that nearly one-third of adults reported having experienced joint pain within the last 30 days.

Joint pain affects everyone differently. The symptoms one may experience can either be short-lived or they may be chronic in nature. The severity can range from mild to severe, and the pain can be persistent and constant or more transient in nature, with the symptoms coming and going. Generally, patients with joint pain experience that some days are better than others with regard to the severity of their symptoms of pain and stiffness.

Causes of  Joint Pain

Joint pain can occur in conjunction with a variety of conditions or injuries.

Common causes of joint pain include:

  • Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, is a chronic condition and is associated with damage to the cartilage within the joints. Cartilage is the protective material that acts as a cushion within the joint. This cartilage can become damaged as a result of wear and tear across a number of years or as the result of a specific injury. If the cartilage sustains enough damage, there is a high risk of bone rubbing directly onto bone. This leads to significant pain and a loss in flexibility in the joint itself.
  • Autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, are characterized by an atypical immune response to the body’s own joints. In these cases, the patient’s own immune system begins to attack the synovial membrane that lines the joint capsule and envelopes all joint parts. As a result, the synovial membrane becomes swollen and inflamed.
  • Bursitis affects the fluid-filled sacks, or bursae, connecting the bones, tendons, and muscles near the joint. The condition is caused by inflammation of the bursae, leading to pain.
  • A number of infections have been found to have joint pain side effects, such as hepatitis, influenza, and Lyme disease.
  • Tendinitis affects the tendons connecting the muscle to the bone. This condition is caused by irritation of the tendon near the joint.
  • Overexertion, such as strains or sprains, are associated with joint pain.
  • Injuries, such as a fracture, are related to joint pain.

While most episodes of joint pain are not severe, you should contact your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms along with the joint pain:

  • Fever that is not associated with symptoms of the flu
  • You have unintentionally lost ten or more pounds
  • Your joint pain lasts for more than three days
  • Your joint pain is severe and accompanied by other unexplained symptoms

Treatment for Joint Pain

The primary goal for the treatment of joint pain is providing pain relief and improving joint function. In terms of pharmacotherapy, there are a number of medications available. The first line of treatment, for many cases of joint pain, is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). These medications are recommended because of their ability to reduce inflammation within the joint and, thereby, reduce pain. Oral corticosteroids, such as prednisone and cortisone, may also be recommended to reduce inflammation within the joint causing pain.

Patients experiencing chronic joint pain may wish to try more aggressive forms of managing their symptoms. There is some support for the benefits of corticosteroid injections to reduce the degree of inflamed tissue and reduce pain. These procedures include joint injections, knee joint injections, or intra-articular peripheral joint injections. Treatment plans typically involve multiple injections to achieve maximum pain relief. The most common conditions steroid injections are ideal for include arthritis, joint disease, and inflammation.

Individuals whose pain does not respond to over-the-counter remedies may wish to speak to their doctor about prescribing an opioid medication to help manage the pain. Opioids are among the oldest classes of drug therapies available. Their pharmacological effects arise by binding to the opioid receptors within the brain. The effects, similar to morphine, are a decreased perception of pain, decreased reaction to pain, and increased pain tolerance. Studies have provided ample support for the use of opioids in short-term relieve of sudden-onset, severe pain; however, concerns related to the misuse and abuse of this medication suggest that long-term use of opioids for managing pain is contraindicated. It is recommended that you discuss your options with your doctor in order to determine what is best for you.


Joint pain is common and affects the area where two bones are connected, along with the surrounding tissue. Currently, there are no cures for chronic joint pain, such as that which occurs in association with arthritis. However, there are a number of different treatment options for managing joint pain. In general, a trial of more conservative forms of treatment is recommended prior to attempting more aggressive interventions. Patients with chronic joint pain are encouraged to speak with their physician about the possibility of using corticosteroid injections to help relieve their symptoms of chronic pain.

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