Health A to Z

Joint pain

What you need to know about joint pain, and its causes, symptoms and treatment.

Got stiff, achy joints that are keeping you glued to the couch? Joint pain can be caused by many conditions, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and bursitis, which is inflammation of the bursae, the fluid-filled sacs that cushion bones.

Joint pain causes A wide range of conditions from infectious diseases (influenza) to injury (sprains) and autoimmune diseases (lupus) can cause joint pain.

Joint pain symptoms Joint pain may affect one or more joints. Symptoms may include pain, swelling, stiffness and reduced mobility. The joint may be red or warm if the pain is due to arthritis.

Joint pain diagnosis/tests See your doctor who will ask you to describe your symptoms and give you a physical exam. She may order X-rays and blood tests if she suspects certain types of arthritis or want to test fluid from inside of the joint. Since some joint pain, such as pain in the sacro-iliac joint, can be related to a type of arthritis called ankylosing spondylitis, which is often inherited, your doctor may inquire about your family history. You may be referred to a rheumatologist, a specialist in arthritis and certain autoimmune diseases, such as lupus and fibromyalgia, for diagnosis and treatment.

Joint pain treatment If an underlying condition is causing the joint pain, treating that condition should help alleviate the pain. Anti-inflammatory medications may help relieve pain and swelling. Warm baths, massage and stretching exercises are also recommended for joint pain that is not caused by arthritis.

Joint pain prevention Always wear protective gear, such as elbow and knee pads, when you’re playing sports, to protect your joints from injury. If you’re concerned about joint pain, choose low-impact exercises, such as swimming which are less likely to result in joint injuries.  In the case of joint pain due to bursitis, avoiding activities that involve repetitive movements of body parts may help prevent it. There is no known way to prevent rheumatoid arthritis but it’s often possible to prevent further joint damage if you get prompt treatment. If you’re overweight, weight loss may reduce your risk of developing osteoarthritis in your knees.

More info from Chatelaine
Two views: Treating back pain
Get moving: Aches and pains

Outside Resources
The Arthritis Society
The Canadian Pain Coalition