Joint Pain

Joint pain can be felt in the joints throughout your body. It may be a symptom of many different health conditions. Arthritis is the most common cause of joint pain. There are more than 100 kinds of arthritis. Joint pain may range from mild to severe. Treatments vary from simple at-home care to surgery, depending on your condition.


What is joint pain?

Joint pain is discomfort that affects one or more joints in your body. A joint is where the ends of two or more of your bones come together. For example, your hip joint is where your thigh bone meets your pelvis.

Joint discomfort is common and usually felt in your hands, feet, hips, knees or spine. Pain in your joints may be constant, or it can come and go. Sometimes, your joints can feel stiff, achy or sore. Some people complain of a burning, throbbing or “grating” sensation. In addition, your joints may feel stiff in the morning but loosen up and feel better with movement and activity. However, too much activity could make your pain worse.

Joint pain may affect the function of your joints and can limit your ability to do basic tasks. Severe, painful joints can interfere with your quality of life. Treatment should focus not only on pain but on getting back to daily activities and living your life to the fullest.


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Possible Causes

What causes joint pain?

The most common causes of joint pain include:

  • Osteoarthritis: Osteoarthritis, a common type of arthritis, happens over time when your cartilage — the protective cushion between your bones — wears away. Your joints become painful and stiff. Osteoarthritis develops slowly and usually occurs after age 45.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA): RA is a chronic disease that causes swelling and pain in your joints. Often, your joints deform (usually occurring in your fingers and wrists).
  • Gout: Gout is a painful condition where acidic crystals from your body collect in your joint, causing severe pain and swelling. This usually occurs in your big toe.
  • Bursitis: Overuse causes bursitis. It’s usually found in your hip, knee, elbow or shoulder.
  • Tendinitis: Tendinitis is inflammation of your tendons — the flexible bands that connect bone and muscle. It’s typically seen in your elbow, heel or shoulder. Overuse often causes it.

In addition, viral infections, rash or fever may make joint movement painful. Injuries, such as broken bones or sprains, can also cause joint pain.

What are the risk factors for joint pain?

Joint pain tends to affect people who have:

  • Arthritis or other long-term (chronic) medical conditions.
  • Previous injuries to a joint.
  • Repeatedly used and/or overused a muscle.
  • Depression, anxiety and/or stress.
  • Overweight (having a BMI, or body mass index, greater than 25) or obesity (having a BMI greater than 30).

Age is also a factor in stiff and painful joints. After years of use and wear and tear on your joints, problems may arise after age 45.

Care and Treatment

What is the treatment for joint pain?

Although there may not be a cure for joint pain, there are ways to manage it. Sometimes, the pain may go away by taking over-the-counter (OTC) medication or by performing simple daily exercises. Other times, the pain may be signaling problems that can only be corrected with prescription medication or surgery.

Joint pain treatment includes:

  • Simple at-home remedies: Your healthcare provider may recommend applying a heating pad or ice onto the affected area for short periods, several times a day. Soaking in a warm bathtub may also offer relief.
  • Exercise: Exercise can help get back strength and function. Walking, swimming or another low-impact aerobic exercise is best. People who participate in strenuous workouts or sports activities may need to scale it back or begin a low-impact workout routine. Gentle stretching exercises will also help. Check with your provider before beginning or continuing any exercise program.
  • Weight loss: Your provider may suggest losing weight, if needed, to lessen the strain on your joints.
  • Medication: Acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may help ease your pain. Both medicines are available over the counter, but stronger doses may need a prescription. If you have a history of stomach ulcers, kidney disease or liver disease, check with your provider to see if this is a good option for you.
  • Topical treatments: Your provider may recommend topical treatments like ointments or gels that you can rub into your skin over the affected joint area to help ease pain. You may find some of these over the counter, or your provider may write a prescription.
  • Dietary supplements: Dietary supplements like glucosamine may help relieve pain. Ask your provider before taking any over-the-counter supplements.

If those medications or treatments don’t ease your pain, your healthcare provider may prescribe:

  • Supportive aids — such as a brace, a cane or an orthotic device in your shoe — to help support your joint and allow ease of movement.
  • Physical or occupational therapy, along with a balanced fitness program, to gradually help ease pain and improve flexibility.
  • Antidepressants to help improve sleep.
  • Steroids, often given by injection into your joint, to provide short-term relief of pain and swelling.
  • Pain relievers to help ease pain.

It’s important to remember that medicine, even those available over the counter, affects people differently. What helps one person may not work for another. Be sure to follow your provider’s directions carefully when taking any medicine and tell them if you have any side effects.

What surgical options are available to relieve joint pain?

Surgery may be an option if your joint pain is long-lasting and doesn’t lessen with drugs, physical therapy or exercise.

Surgical options that are available include:


Arthroscopy is a procedure where a surgeon makes two or three small cuts (incisions) in the flesh over your joint. They get into your joint using an arthroscope — a thin, flexible, fiberoptic instrument — and repair your cartilage or remove bone chips in or near your joint.

Joint fusion

Joint fusion is a procedure in which a surgeon fastens together the ends of your bones, eliminating the joint. The surgeon may use plates, screws, pins or rods to hold your bones in place while they heal. Surgeons most commonly perform joint fusions on your hands, ankles and spine.


During an osteotomy, a surgeon realigns or reshapes the long bones of your arm or leg to take pressure off the damaged portion of your joint. This procedure can help relieve pain and restore movement in your joint.

Joint replacement

If other treatments don’t help, you may need joint replacement surgery to replace your joint when the cartilage that cushions and protects the ends of your bones wears away. This can be done for hip, knee and shoulder joints. A surgeon removes parts of your bone and implants an artificial joint made from metal or plastic. This procedure has had excellent results and most people feel long-lasting pain relief after this type of surgery.


When To Call the Doctor

What symptoms of joint pain are cause for concern?

Symptoms of joint pain range from mild to disabling. Without cartilage, bones rub directly against each other as your joint moves. Symptoms can include:

  • Swelling.
  • Stiff or enlarged joint.
  • Numbness.
  • Noisy joints, or clicking, grinding or snapping sounds when moving your joint.
  • Painful movement.
  • Difficulty bending or straightening your joint.
  • Loss of motion.
  • A hot and swollen joint. (This needs immediate evaluation.)

When should joint pain be treated by a healthcare provider?

If pain is interfering with your daily life activities, it’s time to talk to a healthcare provider about the problem. It’s important to diagnose the cause of your pain quickly and begin treatment to relieve pain and maintain healthy, functioning joints.

You should see a provider if:

  • Pain is accompanied by a fever.
  • You have unexplained weight loss — 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms) or more.
  • Pain is preventing you from walking normally.

During the appointment, your provider will ask many questions to figure out what may be the cause of your pain. You should be ready to answer questions about:

  • Previous injuries to your joint.
  • When your joint pain began.
  • A family history of joint pain.
  • The type of pain you’re experiencing.

Your provider will perform an examination of the affected joint to see if there’s pain or limited motion. They’ll also look for signs of injury to your surrounding muscles, tendons and ligaments.

If necessary, your provider may also order X-rays or blood tests. X-rays can show if there’s joint deterioration, fluid in your joint, bone spurs or other issues that may be contributing to your pain. Blood tests will help confirm a diagnosis or rule out other diseases that may be causing your pain.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Joint pain can be seen as a red flag — your body’s putting up the signal that something’s not quite right. Despite this warning, it’s not always easy to figure out why you’re in pain and how to fix it. If you’ve been experiencing joint pain, see your healthcare provider. They’ll ask you lots of questions to try to determine what’s going on. It may take some time and a little bit of trial and error, but eventually, you should start to feel some relief and be able to get back to the things you love.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 11/10/2023.

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