To mark National Arthritis Week, we’re reaching out to people who might not yet have a diagnosis of arthritis but who are experiencing joint pain. There can be many different causes of joint pain and you may be wondering whether you need to seek medical help or not. Here are some simple ways to tell when a trip to your doctor or orthopaedic consultant might be beneficial.
Common causes of joint pain
Your joints are any parts of your body where the bones meet and move – including your shoulders, hips, knees, wrists and elbows. When our joints are healthy and flexible we have good mobility and can move easily. Unfortunately, joint pain is a common complaint. When our joints become sore or stiff or we develop aches and pains it can hinder our ability to move. And the less we move, the stiffer and more painful our joints may become.
Pain and stiffness can affect any joint in our body. Here are some of the most common causes of joint pain:
- Arthritis – this is one of the leading reasons why people develop joint pain. There are many different types of arthritis but the two most common forms are osteoarthritis, which is linked to wear and tear, and rheumatoid arthritis, which is an autoimmune disease. See below for some more details on the causes and symptoms of arthritis.
- Bursitis – this is inflammation of the bursae, or fluid-filled sacs that cushion the joints.
- Tendinitis – this is inflammation of the tendons around the joints. Conditions like tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow, jumper’s knee and Achilles tendinopathy are all forms of tendinitis, which is normally an overuse injury caused by making a repetitive movement.
- Overuse injuries – putting too much strain on a joint (for example, by lifting something that is too heavy or increasing your training schedule too quickly) can cause overuse injuries which normally improve by themselves if you rest your joint.
- Gout – this is a painful condition caused by a build-up of uric acid in the joints – normally the big toe. It needs prompt treatment to avoid it becoming chronic and developing into a form of arthritis.
- Lupus – this is a chronic autoimmune condition that causes inflammation throughout the body. There is no cure so treatment focuses on managing the symptoms. One of the parts of the body that can be affected is the joints.
When to seek medical help
Joint pain that is caused by an obvious injury – such as overusing your joint – may be effectively treated at home with painkilling and anti-inflammatory medication, rest and gentle progressive exercise. However, we advise seeking medical help if:
- you’re unsure of the cause
- the pain is affecting your quality of life
- it is ongoing, severe or there is deformity of the joint
- your joint pain is accompanied by other unexplained symptoms.
You should always seek help if your joint becomes red, swollen or warm to the touch or if you have signs of a fever.
Knowing what is causing the problem can help you to treat it more effectively and the sooner you start the right treatment, the greater your chances of slowing the development of chronic conditions like arthritis.
Arthritis – causes and symptoms
- Osteoarthritis is caused by damage to the joints and is often linked to ageing. It occurs when the cartilage, which cushions the joints and allows them to move smoothly, starts to break down, causing the bone surfaces to become pitted and rough and start to rub against each other.
- Pain in the affected joint
- Inflammation and swelling
- Loss of mobility and greater instability in the joint
- Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease which means the body’s own immune system attacks healthy tissue. It causes pain in the joints and inflammation and is characterised by periods when the symptoms disappear (remission) and periods when the symptoms are very evident (flare-ups).
- Joint pain, stiffness and swelling
- The development of joint deformity over time
- Joint damage on both sides of the body
- Problems in other parts of the body besides the joints
How arthritis is diagnosed
Your doctor will carry out a physical examination and ask you about the symptoms you are experiencing. Diagnosing rheumatoid arthritis can take time as there is no single test for the condition however you will be given blood tests to check for certain substances and antibodies and you may be given imaging tests to check for joint damage.
Treatments for arthritis
There are many things you can do to slow the development of arthritic symptoms. For example, maintaining a healthy body weight may help to reduce the pressure on your joints and staying physically active can help to keep them supple and well-lubricated. There are many different medical treatments available, ranging from injections of corticosteroids, hyaluronic acid or consideration of platelet rich plasma (PRP) to relieve pain and inflammation through to joint replacement surgery for severe arthritis.
What to do if you’re experiencing joint pain
Even mild to moderate pain can result in lifestyle changes which may impact on your quality of life. For example, you may walk less or play sport less often and this may aid deterioration in your joints, leading to worsening symptoms. For this reason, we advise people to seek help as soon as possible as there are many things that can be done to relieve symptoms and help you remain fit and active for longer. Contact us if you are looking for a diagnosis or advice on managing arthritis symptoms.
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Please be reassured that despite the ongoing UK Covid-19 pandemic, orthopaedic treatments are now again being routinely offered to patients. Having the vaccine does not mean that your treatment won’t go ahead. However, in some circumstances, such as for planned surgery, it is advisable to delay it by a couple of weeks to ensure your body responds in the optimum way to the vaccine. If in doubt, please talk to your orthopaedic consultant or contact us for more guidance to help get your orthopaedic treatment back on track.
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