What could be wrong?
Maybe you notice a sharp pain in your left knee when you walk down the stairs. Or maybe it's your shoulder or elbow that aches after carrying the groceries home. While the occasional twinge is probably not a worry, joint pain that lingers or is severe could be a sign of a serious problem.
Determining the cause
Pain is the body's alarm system. It is a signal that something is wrong. But with joint pain, it is often difficult to determine the cause. Sometimes it's obvious - like when you strain your ankle playing basketball. Other times, joint pain develops for no obvious reason.
Common causes include the following:
Sprains or tears to surrounding ligaments, dislocated joint, and other injuries;
Fluid that accumulates around the joint;
Bursitis, an inflammation of the fluid-filled sacs that ease friction between tendons and bones. Often caused by overuse or injury, bursitis typically affects the shoulders, elbows or knees;
Arthritis, a group of more than 100 different diseases. Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are two of the most common forms. Both are more likely to strike women;
Osteoarthritis typically occurs in middle age when the cartilage that protects joints becomes worn or deteriorates because of injury, overuse or disease. The spine, knees, hips, thumbs and big toes are commonly affected. Pain usually worsens when sufferers use the affected joint;
Rheumatoid arthritis usually strikes between the ages of 25 and 50. It may be caused by a viral infection or an overactive immune system. The wrists and knuckles are most commonly affected, but other joints may also hurt. Sufferers usually feel stiff and achy when they get up in the morning. Joints are inflamed and warm to the touch;
A variety of other illnesses, including fibromy-algia, lupus, congenital bone disease, hepatitis, Lyme disease, thyroid disorders, and diabetes; and
Certain medications, such as steroids.
When to seek help
Pain from minor injuries and bursitis may be relieved with the following steps - often referred to by the acronym RICE:
Ice the affected joint;
Compress the area with elastic dressings;and
Elevate the affected limb above the heart.
If these self-care strategies don't help, call your doctor. Also, always seek medical attention for joint pain that is severe, persistent or accompanied by swelling, fever or other serious symptoms.