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.
Joint pain can be caused by many types of injuries or conditions. It may be linked to arthritis, bursitis, and muscle pain. No matter what causes it, joint pain can be very bothersome. Some things that can cause joint pain are:
- Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus
- Chondromalacia patellae
- Crystals in the joint — gout (especially found in the big toe) and CPPD arthritis (pseudogout)
- Infections caused by a virus
- Injury, such as a fracture
- Osteomyelitis (bone infection)
- Septic arthritis (joint infection)
- Unusual exertion or overuse, including strains or sprains
Signs of joint inflammation include:
- Pain with movement
Try an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or naproxen sodium (Aleve).
Physical therapy can be helpful for some types of joint pain. Exercises can improve range of motion and strengthen the muscles surrounding joints. In some cases, splints or braces may be warranted.
In some cases, your doctor may suggest injecting medications or other substances directly into your joint. Examples include:
- Corticosteroids. Injections of a corticosteroid drug into your knee joint may help reduce the symptoms of an arthritis flare and provide pain relief that may last a few months. These injections aren’t effective in all cases.
- Hyaluronic acid. A thick fluid, similar to the fluid that naturally lubricates joints, hyaluronic acid can be injected into your knee to improve mobility and ease pain. Although study results have been mixed about the effectiveness of this treatment, relief from one or a series of shots may last as long as six months.
- Platelet-rich plasma (PRP). PRP contains a concentration of many different growth factors that appear to reduce inflammation and promote healing. Some studies have found that PRP may benefit certain people with osteoarthritis, but more studies are needed.
For knee pain, partial or total knee replacement surgery may be considered.