Types of Pain Part 4: Joint Pain
If you read the first part of this quadrilogy titled Types of Pain Part 1: Bone Pain, you may be expecting some overlapping information in this piece regarding joint pain. This is true, as joint issues can eventually travel from their site where the bones meet and cause pain in the bones themselves. Osteoarthritis, a condition in which the protective cushion between bones begins to deteriorate, is just one example of this. This degeneration of cartilage, caused by wear and tear of the flexible tissue attaching the bones, was listed as one of the causes of bone pain in the first article. And it won’t be the only condition mentioned here that was previously addressed in Part 1.
As was also mentioned in the earlier articles, bone pain should be taken more seriously than the other types of pain. For this reason, identifying and treating suspected joint pain, before it leads to a bone related issue, is imperative. What are the most common causes of joint pain? If you suspect the discomfort you experience is joint related, what should you do?
Causes of Joint Pain
Bursitis, the inflammation of the fluid-filled cushioning between the joints, is caused by repetitive physical activity. People who overwork their knees running marathons have the same risk as the cashiers flexing and extending their wrists for hours on end.
This may sound a little contradictory, but lack of use can be just as detrimental as overuse. If you spend too much time sitting, your body adapts to the lack of movement. Your joints, especially your knees, will weaken over time if you don’t use them.
Before I get started, know that a large portion of healthcare practitioners (myself included) believe BMI is an inaccurate measure of body fat content. It doesn’t account for one’s body mass, bone density, or body composition. With that said, height to weight ratio does play a role in the risk for joint issues. It doesn’t matter if the heavy weight comes from solid muscle or obesity, it’s still placing a considerable amount of pressure on the hips and knees.
Sports, falls, and blunt force trauma are common causes of joint injury.
If the injury is left untreated, the affected soft tissue will impact the movement of the joints, forcing other tissue and bones to compensate for it. The changed body mechanics may start to wear on the overcompensating tissue and ultimately the bone, putting one at risk for bone conditions and fractures.
Arthritis is an umbrella term used to describe the various inflammatory joint diseases. The most common types of arthritis include:
- Rheumatoid Arthritis: A chronic autoimmune disease most commonly affecting the hands and feet. Over time, the condition can eventually lead to joint deformity and bone erosion.
- Osteoarthritis: Arthritis that occurs when the protective cartilage at the ends of bones begins to erode. It usually manifests in the hands, neck, lower back, knees, and hips.
- Gout: A form of arthritis caused by excessive levels of uric acid in the body. The most common cause of gout is a diet high in sugar, alcohol, and/or red meat.
- Psoriatic Arthritis: Joint inflammation affecting those with psoriasis.
This neuromuscular disease is sometimes confused with arthritis, as they often occur alongside each other and both conditions cause joint pain. But unlike localized arthritis, fibromyalgia is widespread and doesn’t actually damage the joints, but does worsen the pain of preexisting joint conditions.
Pain, stiffness, and swelling in the joints occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues in the body.
Joint Pain Selfcare
If you experience pain, swelling, or stiffness in one or more joints, what should you do?
- Apply a hot pack to the affected area for 15 minutes, and then follow up with a cold pack for 15 minutes. Repeat this 3-4 times per day.
- Ask a healthcare professional if heat therapy is safe for arthritis. Heat therapy, though safe for most, might increase the inflammation that comes with arthritis.
Other Things You Can Do
Keep in mind, you’ll always want to consult a medical professional before starting any sort of treatment. There is no one-size-fits all treatment for anything, and joint pain is no exception. While a deep tissue massage may ease one patient’s arthritis, it’s something someone with fibromyalgia should steer clear of completely. Know what’s best for you!
In some cases, medications or surgery may be the only options for relief. But as with any pain related condition, you’ll ideally want to exhaust all other options before considering a joint replacement.
Now You Know!
Take care of your joints! Pretty much all of us will experience it at some point or another; there’s no stopping the aging process, and years of joint overuse or underuse will inevitably make its mark. So find emotional comfort in the fact that you’re far from alone when your joints start to ache, and find physical comfort through self-care!
Author, Licensed Massage Therapist
Katrina Jenkins graduated from Towson University in 2013 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Health Science and worked as a nurse’s aide briefly before pursuing her true passion. She graduated from the Massage Therapy Institute of Colorado in April 2016 with honors and completed the Touch of Healers Scholarship Program the following summer. She has been a part of the Moyer Total Wellness Team since the summer of 2017.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). Arthritis Types. [online] Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/basics/types.html.
Madell, R. (2019). What’s the Difference Between RA and Fibromyalgia? [online] Healthline. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/health/rheumatoid-arthritis-vs-fibromyalgia#distinct-differences.
Position Statement. (2015). [online] Available at: https://www.aaos.org/contentassets/1cd7f41417ec4dd4b5c4c48532183b96/1184-the-impact-of-obesity-on-bone-and-joint-health1.pdf.
St. John’s Medical Center (2020). Sedentary Behavior and Joint Pain. [online] St. John’s Health. Available at: https://www.stjohns.health/blog/2020/march/sedentary-behavior-and-joint-pain/.
The Noyes Knee Institute. (2018). Inactivity Is Hard on Your Knees. [online] Available at: https://noyeskneeinstitute.com/inactivity-hard-knees/.
Canva by busracavus from Getty Images Pro