What is joint pain?
Pain originating in the joints often originates from external structures such as muscles, tendons or ligaments, e.g. bursitis and tendonitis.
Joint pain, also known as arthralgia, is mainly a symptom, not a disease as such, since the cause of the pain is actually a disease. It is a fairly common symptom, which hinders the daily life of many people. The discomfort in knees, shoulders, elbows, ankles, wrists and so on appear as pinching, sharp pain and other manifestations, affecting the quality of life of the sufferer.
The disorders that usually cause pain in the joints are:
- Infectious arthritis
- Idiopathic arthritis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Ankylosing spondylitis
- Behçet’s disease
- Psoriatic arthritis
Prognosis of the disease
Joint pain varies according to its cause. Initially, the earlier the pathology causing the arthralgia is identified, the easier it is to treat both the pain and the underlying pathology causing it.
Symptoms of joint pain
Joint pain affects different areas of the body, such as the knees, fingers, toes, wrists, shoulders, etc. The pain is usually accompanied by stiffness, pain on touch and even swelling.
Joint pain can be accompanied by inflammation of one or more joints and occurs in different ways. A good example would be osteoarthritis, in which the joint cartilage – the tissue that protects the joint – deteriorates. The regenerative capacity of cartilage is limited, so there is a progressive loss of cartilage over time.
Once cartilage is gone, the bones rub against each other, causing pain, inflammation and even bony protrusions in the joint, causing stiffness and difficulty in movement.
Joint pain can appear suddenly or develop progressively and worsen over time.
Some common symptoms of joint pain are:
- Burning sensation
- Difficulty in movement
- Reduced mobility
In turn, the patient suffering from joint pain should see a specialist immediately if he/she suffers any of the following symptoms, as this is a serious condition:
- Bone protruding from the skin
- Fever not associated with flu
- Severe joint pain
- Development of joint deformity
The shoulder is one of the most common joints to experience joint pain.
Tests for joint pain
In case the patient presents symptoms such as fever, sore throat, extreme fatigue or tiredness, malaise, inflammations…. The patient will have to go to an appropriate health center that can help alleviate the above symptoms.
The patient’s state of health will be assessed with a complete physical examination. Some tests that can be performed are:
- Synovial fluid analysis
- Blood tests
- Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) and C-REACTIVE protein levels.
- Skin biopsies
- CT or MRI scans
Causes of joint pain
In most cases, the cause of the pain is arthritis, whether it is common arthritis, chronic arthritis or acute arthritis. However, it can be related to various diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, bursitis, chondromalacia patella, injuries, infections, osteoarthritis, osteomyelitis, tendonitis or even sprains.
Can joint pain be prevented?
The best way to prevent joint pain is through regular physical exercise, which promotes joint mobility while strengthening the muscles.
At the same time, maintaining a balanced diet with a correct intake of calcium will strengthen the bones. On the other hand, it is advisable to avoid habits such as excessive alcohol consumption or smoking.
Treatments for joint pain
Treatment treats the disorder causing the pain. For example, a patient with lupus needs a drug that suppresses the immune system, while one with an STD joint infection may need antibiotics.
As a general rule, symptoms can be relieved before a definitive diagnosis is known, such as with anti-inflammatory drugs.
The most common treatment includes:
- Anti-inflammatory steroid medications.
- Corticosteroid injections
- Antibiotics and surgical drainage in case of infection
- Physical therapy
Occasionally, immobilization of the joint with splinting or a sling may relieve pain. The application of heat and cold may also help pain caused by inflammation.
Which specialist treats joint pain?
The specialists in charge of treating joint pain are the specialists in Rheumatology and the Pain Unit, although sometimes it can also be treated by a specialist in Internal Medicine and by Physical Rehabilitators.