Understanding Joint Pain

“Why do my joints hurt?”

That question can have many answers. Joint pain causes range from injuries and infections to autoimmune diseases and different types of arthritis. Let’s explore some of the possible reasons why your joints are giving you grief.

What Diseases Cause Joint Pain?

Joint pain can appear suddenly or develop over weeks, months or years. Some conditions may be temporary, others long-lasting. Conditions that cause joint pain include:

  • Ankylosing spondylitis: A type of arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis typically affects the spine, although other joints may also be affected. Pain and stiffness in the lower back and hips are common.
  • Bursitis: Bursitis is inflammation of small sacs called bursae that serve as buffers between bones and tissues so joints can move smoothly. Common symptoms of bursitis include pain and swelling.
  • Injury: A sprain or fracture can cause acute joint pain.
  • Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. This condition occurs when the cartilage in a joint wears away, leaving nothing to cushion bones during movement. That can cause joint swelling and pain. Osteoarthritis is common in the knees and hips but can affect any joint.
  • Osteomyelitis: Osteomyelitis is a bone infection that can cause pain and swelling around a joint.
  • Reactive arthritis: This condition causes joint inflammation, often in the knees and ankles. Reactive arthritis can occur when your body responds to a bacterial infection.
  • Septic arthritis. Caused by a bacterial or fungal infection of a joint, septic arthritis can lead to joint swelling and intense pain, among other symptoms. This condition commonly affects the hips and knees.
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). The most common type of lupus, SLE is a condition in which the immune system attacks joints and organs. Symptoms typically come and go. During a flare, joint pain and swelling may occur, along with fatigue and skin rashes.
  • Tendinitis. Performing the same movement over and over, such as swinging a tennis racket, can cause inflammation of a tendon. That’s tendinitis. This condition can cause pain and tenderness around a joint.

When Should I Worry About Joint Pain?

Not every case of joint pain is cause for concern. You may be able to reduce or eliminate discomfort at home by:

  • applying ice or heat, as necessary
  • avoiding activities that cause pain
  • elevating the joint at rest
  • stretching the joint
  • taking a nonprescription, pain-relieving medication, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen
  • wearing a compression wrap

If the pain intensifies or lasts longer than a few days, or is accompanied by fever or unexplained weight loss, consult your primary care provider. He or she may refer you to an orthopedic surgeon for evaluation.

Treatment options for joint pain range from conservative to surgical. Conservative treatments, such as physical therapy, weight loss and steroid injections, may provide all the joint pain relief you need to go about your normal life and participate in the activities you love. If, however, you’ve lost much of your range of motion in a joint, or pain has forced you to give up favorite activities or make other major changes to your life, joint replacement surgery may be a good option. Joint care services are available at CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Hospital–San Marcos, CHRISTUS Southeast Texas Health System, CHRISTUS Spohn Hospital Corpus Christi–South and CHRISTUS Trinity Mother Frances Health System.