Joint discomfort is common and usually felt in the hands, feet, hips, knees, or spine. Pain may be constant or it can come and go. Sometimes the joint can feel stiff, achy, or sore. Some patients complain of a burning, throbbing, or “grating” sensation. In addition, the joint may feel stiff in the morning but loosen up and feel better with movement and activity. However, too much activity could make the pain worse.
Joint pain may affect the function of the joint, and can limit a person’s ability to do basic tasks. Severe joint pain can affect the quality of life. Treatment should focus not only on pain but also on the affected activities and functions.
Joint pain tends to affects those who:
Age is also a factor in stiff and painful joints. After years of use, and wear and tear on joints, problems may arise in middle-aged or older adults.
The most common causes of chronic pain in joints are:
Although there may not be a cure for the pain, it can be managed to bring the patient relief. Sometimes the pain may go away by taking over-the-counter 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.
If those medications or treatments do not ease the pain, the doctor may prescribe:
Please note that medicine, even those available over the counter, affects people differently. What helps one person may not work for another. Be sure to follow the doctor’s directions carefully when taking any medicine, and tell him or her if you have any side effects.
Surgery may be an option if the joint pain is long lasting and does not lessen with drugs or physical therapy and exercise. Please be sure to discuss this with the doctor to make sure that an operation makes sense.
There are many different surgical options available, including:
Arthroscopy: A procedure where a surgeon makes two or three small incisions in the flesh over the joint and gets into the joint using an arthroscope, or a thin, flexible, fiberoptic instrument, to repair cartilage or remove bone chips in or near the joint.
Joint replacement: If other treatments do not help, surgery may be needed to replace the joint once the cartilage that cushions and protects the ends of the bones gradually wears away. This can be done for hip, knee and shoulder joints.
A surgeon removes parts of the patient’s bone and implants an artificial joint made from metal or plastic. This procedure has had excellent results and the majority of patients feel long-lasting pain relief after this type of surgery.
Symptoms of joint pain range from mild to disabling. Without cartilage, bones rub directly against each other as the joint moves. Symptoms can include:
If pain is interfering with normal daily life activities, it is time to talk to a doctor about the problem. It is important to diagnose the cause of the pain quickly and begin treatment to relieve pain and maintain healthy, functioning joints.
You should see a doctor if:
During the appointment, the doctor will ask many questions to figure out what may be the cause of the pain. The patient should be ready to answer questions about previous injuries to the joint, when the joint pain began, a family history of joint pain, and the type of pain experienced.
An examination of the affected joint will follow to see if there is pain or limited motion. The doctor will also look for signs of injury to the surrounding muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
If necessary, the doctor may also order X-rays or blood tests. X-rays can show if there is joint deterioration, fluid in the joint, bone spurs, or other issues that may be contributing to the pain. Blood tests will help confirm a diagnosis or rule out other diseases that may be causing the pain.
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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 03/28/2018