Living with joint pains
Joints form the connections between bones. They provide support and help you move. Any damage to the joints from disease or injury can interfere with your movement and cause a lot of pain.
Many different conditions can lead to painful joints, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, bursitis, gout, strains, sprains, and other injuries. Joint pain is extremely common. In one national survey, about one-third of adults reported having joint pain within the past 30 days. Knee pain was the most common complaint, followed by shoulder and hip pain, but joint pain can affect any part of your body, from your ankles and feet to your shoulders and hands. As you get older, painful joints become increasingly more common.
Joint pain can range from mildly irritating to debilitating. It may go away after a few weeks (acute), or last for several weeks or months (chronic). Even short-term pain and swelling in the joints can affect your quality of life. Whatever the cause of joint pain, you can usually manage it with medication, physical therapy, or alternative treatments.
Your doctor will first try to diagnose and treat the condition that is causing your joint pain. The goal is to reduce pain and inflammation and preserve joint function.
Treatment options include:
For moderate-to-severe joint pain with swelling, an over-the-counter or prescription nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen sodium (Aleve), can provide relief. A newer generation of NSAIDs known as Cox-2 inhibitors is also good for pain relief, but all except one of these drugs. NSAIDs also can have side effects, potentially increasing your risk for gastrointestinal bleeding.
Arthritis is a group of painful and degenerative conditions marked by inflammation in the joints that causes stiffness and pain. Osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis, gets worse with age and is caused by wear and tear over the years. Rheumatoid arthritis is caused by the immune system attacking the joints as if they were foreign tissues. Because of this, rheumatoid arthritis is classified as an autoimmune disease. Doctors traditionally treat arthritis with anti-inflammatory medications and painkillers. However, some medications cause side effects, and a natural approach to pain relief is becoming more popular. Remember to consult your doctor before trying these natural remedies.
Lose weight Your weight can make a big impact on the amount of pain you experience from arthritis. Extra weight puts more pressure on your joints —,, especially your knees, hips, and feet. Reducing the stress on your joints by Losing weight will improve your mobility, decrease pain, and prevent future damage to your joints.
There are more benefits to exercise than just weight loss. Regular movement helps to maintain flexibility in your joints. Weight-bearing exercises such as running and walking can be damaging. Instead, try Low impact exercises such as water aerobics or swimming to flex your joints without adding further stress.
Use hot and cold therapy
Simple hot and cold treatments can make a world of difference when it comes to arthritis pain. Long, warm showers or baths — especially in the morning — help ease stiffness in your joints. Use an electric blanket or moist heating pad at night to keep your joints loose.
Cold treatments are best for relieving joint pain, swelling, and inflammation. Wrap a gel ice pack or a bag of frozen vegetables in a towel and apply it to painful joints for quick relief.
Individuals can work with a physical therapist to identify the best exercises and programs for their needs. Strengthening the upper leg muscles—the quadriceps muscles—through exercise can help to protect the knee joint. These muscles are at the sides and front of the thighs.
Here are some ways to strengthen these muscles:
- Straighten and raise a leg while lying or sitting down.
- Place one foot up on a step, then the other, stepping down again, and repeating the step-ups.
- Sit on a chair and then stand and sit repeatedly for a minute.
- Do this in a slow, controlled way and avoid using the hands to support you.
- Hold a chair and squat until the kneecaps cover the toes.
- Do this 10 times.
Posture and support
Measures that can help to minimize knee strain include:
- Avoiding low chairs and couches that you “sink” into.
- Sitting on a pillow to raise your seating level, if necessary.
- Checking that you have a good sitting posture, without slouching or leaning
- Wearing supportive shoes and avoiding those with broken arches, as they can result in abnormal force and wear on the knee.
- Avoiding prolonged sitting and long periods without moving, as joints may become stiff and painful without movement.
When to see a doctor
People with warning signs should see a doctor right away. Doctors are better able to treat symptoms more rapidly and completely if treatment occurs early in certain disorders, including crystal-induced arthritis, hemarthrosis, and infectious arthritis. People without warning signs, particularly if the cause of pain is known (for example, if typical pain recurs in a joint affected by osteoarthritis or if pain occurs after a minor injury) and symptoms are mild, can wait a few days and see whether symptoms resolve before seeing a doctor.
The physical examination focuses on the joints for signs of inflammation (including swelling, warmth, and rarely redness), tenderness, limitation of motion, and noises made when the joint moves (called crepitus). Doctors compare the affected joint with the coordinating unaffected joint on the opposite side of the body to look for any subtle changes.