What Causes Joint Pain? Doctors Answer Your Common Questions About Joint Pain

Fact checked by Olga Sadouskaya, MD
Clinical Pharmacologist, Chief Medical Officer

The points in your body where two bones come together to form a connection are known as joints. The bones of your skeleton are able to move because you have joints connecting them. Joints are present in the following areas:

  • Shoulders
  • Hips
  • Elbows
  • Knees

Joint discomfort is a frequent ailment. It’s not often necessary to go to the hospital for treatment. There are a number of conditions and injuries that may lead to painful joints. Arthritis is another prevalent condition that may lead to joint discomfort.

However, it may also be the result of other circumstances or situations.

What does joint pain feel like?

The hands, feet, hips, knees, and spine are the most frequent locations where people report feeling pain in their joints. Pain might be intermittent, or it can be there all the time. There may be moments when the joint feels stiff, achy, or painful.

Some patients describe the feeling as grating, throbbing, or scorching. In addition, joints can feel tight when you first get up, but they should loosen up and feel better as the day progresses if you stay active. However, if you push yourself too much, it could make the discomfort even worse!

Pain in a joint may interfere with its normal function and impede your ability to do even the most fundamental actions.

Severe joint discomfort may be detrimental to your quality of life.

Treatment should not just concentrate on the pain, but also on the processes and activities that are being disrupted.

What causes joint pain?

The following are the most common reasons for persistent joint pain.

Osteoarthritis

When the cartilage that serves as a protective cushion between the bones in the body deteriorates over time, a common form of arthritis known as osteoarthritis may develop. The joints hurt and become stiff as the condition progresses.

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that manifests gradually and often in middle age.

Be ready for the upcoming symptoms!
WeatherWell helps you stay informed about the changing weather that may affect your health and well-being.
4.7
Weatherwell app screenshot

Rheumatoid arthritis

It’s a persistent condition that manifests in the form of joint discomfort and swelling. Frequently, the joints will become misshapen (usually occurring in the fingers and wrists).

Gout

Gout is a painful disorder that occurs when crystals from the body collect in the joints, producing extreme pain and swelling. This condition often affects the big toe.

Bursitis

Overuse is the root cause of bursitis. The shoulder, hip, knee, and elbow are the most common locations to have it.

Inflammatory joint pain may also be caused by conditions such as viral infections, rashes, or fever. Inflammation of the tendons, which are the flexible bands that link bone and muscle, is known as tendinitis.

Overuse is frequently to blame for this condition, which manifests as pain in the shoulder, heel, or elbow.

Can joint pain be caused by stress?

The stress reaction in your body produces hormones that get you ready to meet the task that is in front of you. As you prepare, you may notice that your pulse rate accelerates, your breath quickens, and your muscles become tight.

This response is fine in the short term, but when it fires frequently, the increased tension in your muscles might make the pain associated with joint pain worse.

Additionally, stress triggers an inflammatory response from the immune system.

Joint destruction is driven by inflammation in inflammatory types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, psoriatic arthritis, and ankylosing spondylitis, among other forms of the illness.

When you’ve been under stress for a prolonged period of time, inflammation might become more harmful.

Joint health and diet: Which foods can cause joint pain?

Let’s talk about which foods cause joint pain. Some of these have the potential to worsen your existing pain or trigger new discomfort.

Sugary food

If you eat a lot of sugar, your body may react by producing more inflammation. The quantity required to have an effect is about 40 grams or roughly the amount in one can of soda. People with arthritis who give up sugary beverages, snacks, and desserts may find some relief from their symptoms.

Cookies and milk as some of the foods that can cause joint pain

Dairy

Dairy may seem out of place here, as it contains a number of important nutrients, including protein and calcium. However, the casein in it may exacerbate inflammation. Consuming fewer dairy products may help minimize joint inflammation.

High-fat diet

When it comes to protecting your heart and keeping your organs running smoothly, you need the beneficial fats that can be found in foods like avocados, olive oil, and almonds.

However, trans fats, such as those found in processed meals, fried foods, fast food, and doughnuts, may lead to inflammatory reactions in the body.

Foods high in carbohydrates

Carbohydrates in your diet are converted into energy by your body. To give themselves an advantage, some athletes “carb load” in the days leading up to a competition.

However, the refined carbohydrates found in high-glycemic foods like bread, crackers, white rice, and potatoes may lead to inflammation, weight gain, and chronic diseases.

Alcohol and tobacco

These two substances are not only harmful to your health in general, but they are also recognized as inflammatories that lead to some forms of arthritis. The chance of developing rheumatoid arthritis is raised by smoking, and drinking alcohol is associated with developing gout.

Gluten

For people with celiac disease, gluten may cause inflammation in their joints and trigger or aggravate joint pain. So limiting gluten or going completely gluten-free can help improve your joint pain if you’re sensitive to this protein.

And which foods can improve joint pain?

Bone, muscle, and joint health, as well as the immune system’s ability to combat inflammation and illness, may all be improved by including certain foods in your diet. Some people find that including the following six items in their diet helps reduce the pain and inflammation associated with osteoarthritis.

Fish

The high levels of omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish are beneficial to health. The anti-inflammatory effects of these polyunsaturated fats may help those with osteoarthritis.

Fish oil, krill oil, and flaxseed oil supplements are available for those who would rather not consume fish. Chia seeds, walnuts, and flaxseed oil are other good choices since they contain omega-3 fatty acids. These foods also have anti-inflammatory properties.

Oils

Some additional oils, in addition to those found in fatty fish, may also alleviate inflammation. The oleocanthal levels in extra virgin olive oil are rather high, and some research suggests that they may have anti-inflammatory effects comparable to those of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

Salmon, vegetables, and oils as some of the foods that can improve joint pain

Oils made from avocados and safflowers are both nutritious and may help reduce cholesterol levels. The calcium and vitamin D content in dairy products (such as milk, yogurt, and cheese) is very high. As these nutrients strengthen bones, they may alleviate painful sensations.

Muscle growth-promoting proteins are found in dairy products as well. A low-fat diet is a good choice for those who are trying to control their weight.

Greens

Phytochemicals and antioxidants found in abundance in dark leafy greens, such as vitamin D, are particularly effective against stress. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and has been shown to strengthen the immune system, making it better able to ward off illness.

Dark leafy greens include spinach, kale, chard, and collards.

Broccoli

The sulforaphane found in broccoli has been shown to inhibit the development of osteoarthritis. This vegetable is an excellent source of calcium, vitamin K, and vitamin C.

Green tea

Experts think that polyphenols, a kind of antioxidant, may be able to lessen inflammation and delay the pace of cartilage deterioration. Among the many health benefits of green tea is its high polyphenol content.

Nuts

The rich calcium, magnesium, zinc, vitamin E, and fiber content in nuts makes them heart-healthy snacks. They also include an immune-boosting compound called alpha-linolenic acid.

Can I have joint pain on one side of my body?

It’s possible to have joint pain on one side of your body. It may be affected by some types of arthritis, such as osteoarthritis and psoriatic arthritis.

Since osteoarthritis is caused by the repeated usage of your joints, you are more likely to have symptoms on the side of your body that you use more often, such as your dominant hand.

Why do I have joint pain at night?

Some people have joint pain at night. It’s possible that during the night, your body produces less of the hormone cortisol, which helps reduce inflammation. Moreover, maintaining the same posture for an extended period of time might cause your joints to become more rigid.

Download WeatherWell to keep an eye on the weather conditions that can trigger joint pain.

What can I do to relieve joint stiffness?

It is common practice to treat arthritis using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin, naproxen, and ibuprofen. Compresses, whether cold or hot, may be beneficial. A hot compress can relax the muscles and joints, while a cold compress will minimize swelling.

Steroids may be helpful in lowering the inflammation and swelling that contribute to stiffness in the body.

What doctor should I go to for joint pain?

If you experience joint discomfort and are concerned that it may be caused by arthritis, you may be curious about the kind of joint pain doctor or medical professional you should consult. Should you see an orthopedist, rheumatologist, or another kind of specialist instead?

Primary care doctor

Osteoarthritis may be controlled with typical therapies, such as anti-inflammatory pain drugs and referral to a physical therapist, which can be administered by a primary care physician. X-rays are something that the doctor will most likely request.

Rheumatologist

A rheumatologist will be called if the attending physician believes that osteoarthritis is not the only factor contributing to the patient’s joint difficulties.

If your symptoms don’t improve or become worse, your primary care physician may refer you to an orthopedist, rheumatologist, or orthopedic surgeon for more intensive medical therapy or surgery.

Orthopedist

Orthopedists are medical professionals who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of injuries and disorders affecting the musculoskeletal system, such as osteoarthritis.

An orthopedic surgeon may conduct surgery, such as joint replacement, on patients with severe arthritis that produces a large amount of pain and significantly restricts everyday living.

Final thoughts

It is vital to build strength in the muscles that surround arthritic joints in order to reduce the amount of strain placed on the joints and stop the progression of arthritis.

If you have been suffering from joint pain, stiffness, or swelling for more than three months, it’s imperative that you get the attention of a qualified medical professional. You could be sent to a rheumatologist if, in addition to tiredness and tendon pain, you’ve also noticed changes in the appearance of your nails, skin, or eyes.

January 13, 2023