Joint pain is one of the most common conditions affecting the elderly around the world, and Hong Kong is no exception. In 2015, the South China Morning Post revealed that about 40% of people aged over 65 suffer from osteoarthritis (a common cause of joint pain).
Although joint pain is more prevalent among the elderly, it can also affect the young. Lifestyle habits and an unhealthy diet are known contributors to joint pain. In this blog, we’ll cover the various causes as well as some ways you can try to ease the pain.
What are the symptoms of joint pain?
There are 360 joints in the human body, connecting bones together to allow for functionality. Discomfort, aches and soreness of these joints can come as a result of some of the following physical symptoms:
- Joint swelling
- Joint redness
- Sensitivity to touch of the area near the joint.
If the pain is the result of an accident, you should visit a doctor immediately. Similarly, if the joints become extremely swollen suddenly, you should visit a doctor without delay. You should also see a doctor when:
- The pain lasts for more than 3–4 days
- The area around the joint is swollen or red
- You experience fever or body pain in addition to joint pain
3 common causes of joint pain
As mentioned, there are various causes of joint pain that can affect different people. It’s important to understand the reasons behind your joint pain so that it can be treated properly; let’s walk through the most common ones:
#1. Injury: trauma and fracture
Injury, from sports, a fall or other such accidents, are major causes of joint pain. Joint injuries tend to come in one of the following forms:
- Strains: occur when muscles and/or tendons are overextended.
- Sprains: injuries to ligaments that hold bones together.
- Fractures: breaks, chips or cracks in bones.
- Dislocations: separation of a bone its normal position at a joint.
Typically for strains and sprains, you can rest and ice the area affected. If the pain is too much, or you are unable to move the joint completely, you need to seek medical assistance as soon as possible.
Joint injuries that are left untreated are a high-risk risk factor for osteoarthritis development.
#2. The overuse of joints
Our muscles are attached to the bones by thick fibrous cords called tendons. Inflammation of these tendons can result in tendonitis.
Repeated movement is the leading cause of tendonitis. Tendons become stressed, which can result in pain in the surrounding area. For example, Tendonitis is a common problem amongst production line workers who are required to repeat the same movements daily. Some major symptoms of tendonitis are pain in the joints, swelling and tenderness. The most commonly found types of tendonitis are tennis elbow, runner’s knee, and swimmer’s shoulder.
Overuse of your joints can also lead to Bursitis, which is the inflammation of a bursa — a small jelly sac that reduces friction and cushions pressure between your bones, tendons and muscles near your joints. When swollen it can cause joint pain and limit your mobility. The bursa is usually found in the hip, knee, elbow, or shoulder.
#3. Diseases & conditions
Arthritis refers to joint inflammation and is a result of various factors. There are over 100 different types of arthritis, of which there are two main forms you should be aware of: osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Joint pain from OA is the result of cartilage breakdown, while RA pain is usually from fluid buildup in the joints. Depending on the type of arthritis, the symptoms can vary. However, some common arthritis joint symptoms include swelling, pain, stiffness and decreased range of motion.
Osteoporosis is a disease where the quality and density of the bones are reduced as a result of the small holes inside the bone becoming larger in size (causing the bones to lose their strength). Although osteoporosis itself isn't painful, when the condition reaches a severe case, it can lead to fractures and other problems that can result in pain for your joints.
When osteoporosis is diagnosed, the most popular way to treat it is through medication and supplementary treatment like physical therapy, braces and surgery.
Treatment for joint pain
Depending on the type of joint pain you are suffering from, there are both drug and non-drug treatments, as well as some home remedies suitable for those showing initial symptoms of pain. Here are some treatment options to help alleviate joint pain:
Very mild joint pain can be treated at home by applying hot or cold packs on the joints and getting ample rest to provide some relief to the area. Sometimes, you can also take over-the-counter painkillers to help relieve pain. Ibuprofen tablets are a common example.
However, as soon as you begin to experience joint pain, it’s best to consult a doctor rather than attempting to treat it at home, which can result in more damage to the joint.
Medical treatment will depend on the cause and severity of the joint pain. If the pain is caused as a result of tendonitis or a mild injury, then your doctor will usually prescribe joint pain supplements. However, if the cause of pain is an accident or osteoarthritis, then the doctor may recommend surgery. For example, total knee replacement or total hip replacement are surgeries that are typically done in such circumstances.
Physiotherapy can help manage joint pain by strengthening the muscles surrounding the joint. Again, the type of treatment will depend on the type of joint pain, but the most commonly used physical therapies to manage joint pain include massage, heat therapy, and specific controlled exercises.
Various factors can cause joint pain, including arthritis, osteoporosis, tendonitis, injury or overuse of joints. Once you are afflicted with joint pain, treatments can depend on the diagnosed causes and symptoms.
Feeling joint pain? Contact a doctor for appropriate diagnosis and treatment. It’s always advisable to consult a doctor before embarking on your own treatment.