Joint pain is an extremely common problem that tends to become ever more likely to present as we grow older. It is perhaps best known as a symptom of arthritis or as a consequence of physical trauma/injury, but it can also be a feature of rarer and more complicated health problems. Joint pain is, unfortunately, one of those conditions that tend to slowly worsen as time goes by. It may be located in just one location (often along the spine or inside joints) or be spread throughout different parts of the body.
There are various treatments for joint pain and their availability is going to vary according to the extent of the problem and the medical diagnosis. Some chronic conditions such as osteoarthritis, sacroiliac joint dysfunction, or facet joint pains can be helped with a combination of painkillers and physiotherapy.
In extreme cases, injections and even surgery can provide a degree of pain relief, although be aware that these sometimes are ineffective and their pain relief will often not last more than a few months.
Should you develop pain in a single specific location then the good news is that you should expect a swift diagnosis. Despite there being many potential causes for localized joint pain – and your medical doctor will systematically look into each one – they do often follow a uniform pattern. Medical professionals will look at the characteristics of the pain (sudden and shooting or dull throbbing) when making their assessments. Do not automatically assume it will be ‘straightforward’ arthritis – despite the condition being very common it could be one of many different ailments (many of which are easier to treat). Be aware of the following possibilities:
Single & Multiple Joint Pain
Knee Pain: Knees are the most commonly damaged joints because they spend our lifetimes supporting our weight. Persistent problems may well be due to arthritis but it could be caused by a wide range of other conditions. Ligament and tissue strain/damage is just as common as arthritis, especially in younger people.
Gout/Pseudogout: Gout is a type of arthritis that usually starts causing pain in a big toe before spreading to other joints. It is primarily a disease caused by poor lifestyle/nutrition and is usually identified by bouts of pain that gradually increase in frequency. Affected joints will be hot and inflamed.
Inflamed Tendons: These can occur at any joint and are fortunately often quite simple to treat with a course of anti-inflammatories, icepacks and rest. Often these are caused by sports injuries/bodily trauma and a full recovery is quite likely.
Hemarthrosis: A more serious form of joint/ligament damage which causes localized internal bleeding. Almost always this condition is caused by serious trauma and is identified by significant swelling, bruising and stiffness.
These four examples will account for the majority of localized joint pains. It can also be caused by less common problems such as:
Psoriatic arthritis – affects 20% of people with psoriasis
Reactive arthritis – occurs after infection and most common in younger people
Rheumatoid arthritis – more common form characterized by pain that comes and goes
Osgood-Schlatter’s disease – affects the area right above the kneecap with swelling and extreme tenderness
Tropical infections – very rare and usually waterborne
Avascular necrosis – weakened/decaying bones caused by a low blood supply
Septic arthritis – A very serious condition that completely stops the joint from working (Get to the ER immediately)
Generally speaking the longer-term prognosis for isolated joint pain is quite good. As these conditions are easier to immediately diagnose clinical experts will well understand what remedial actions are appropriate. With adequate care, all of the conditions above can be managed.
Many of the forms listed above can also present themselves in multiple joint pain. Be aware that they may arrive simultaneously or develop over time, making it essential that anyone who becomes aware of persistent and worsening joint pain consults an expert right away. Even though medical assistance is available – and treatment for joint pain and supplementary assistance has never been better – many people still ignore the issue and hope it will just go away. If the condition is serious, that simply will not happen and it will instead grow worse and more difficult to treat effectively.
Facet Joint Pain
In recent years there has been a growing number of diagnoses of specific joint pain that originates from the facet joints. These are the small joints that link the spine together, which when they become inflamed can cause quite debilitating bouts of pain. Just like arthritis attacks may come and go, especially during the early months/years, but they will worsen over time.
Fortunately, understanding of specific facet joint issues has come a long way in recent years and there are now quite formulaic instructions when it comes to forming treatment plans.
Medical Doctors will initially treat the issue by a combination of medication, physical therapy, and psychological coping techniques. In less severe cases these can significantly help and providing the treatment schedule is maintained there is a good chance of considerably lowering the impact on daily life.
Should the condition worsen there are also more advanced procedures – but be aware that these may not always work and might not be appropriate in all cases. Facet joint injections are a combination of anesthetic and steroids that may provide some relief in the short term by reducing the inflammation in the joint. It needs to be administered very precisely and it is essential to be aware that it is not a lasting solution. Medical branch blocks are a similar alternative that instead tries to stop the nerve from transmitting pain to the brain and again is an unreliable short term solution.
The last resort would be a technique called radiofrequency denervation. While this is capable of offering significantly longer-term pain relief, it is an expensive procedure that will need to be quite frequently administered.
Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction
This condition is nowadays thought to account for around a quarter of all lower back and leg pain problems. This joint connects the tailbone and hips and is used mostly to help absorb impact. As we use this bone almost constantly it is one of the most susceptible to wear and tear, but the condition can be caused by both too much and too little movement.
Symptoms tend to begin with general lower back pain that gradually spreads up the spine and throughout the back of the legs. Usually, it is only felt on one side but it can affect both simultaneously. Sacroiliac joint pain can often feature both sharp hot pains and dull constant throbbing, with the former often more prevalent when the body is subjected to sudden movement. It is often first diagnosed with sciatica. Most formal diagnoses of SJD come after a person has started to feel unsteady/unstable on their feet and experienced bouts of dizziness.
As with Facet joint pain, there is a far better understanding of this condition that just a couple of decades ago (for a long time there was considerable disagreement over the illness even existing).
Treatment options will follow a very similar pattern, starting off with hot/cold packs and light pain killing medication through to physical therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (for pain management), and manual manipulation. Chiropodists and Osteopaths can significantly lessen the extent of the pain caused by SJD when incorporated into a universal treatment plan. Should the condition become chronic then expect to wear a medical brace for additional support and take on a course of injections (stem cell treatment) similar to those used in Facet joint treatments.
Joint pain is something which can affect us all at some stage in life and it is important to remember that with appropriate care they can be adequately managed. In most cases, joint pain will start off as something more like an irritation than an actual illness, but it is essential to start taking action as soon as possible. It is very rare for people to be lucky enough to find a form of treatment that completely ‘cures’ joint pain, simply because it is an inevitability as age starts to take its toll. Yet that certainly does not mean that it cannot be handled and that people cannot continue to enjoy active and enjoyable lives.
Should you fall victim to a joint pain disorder then approach the situation positively and with an open mind when it comes to therapies and treatments. These conditions are best addressed by using a physical therapy or by a medical doctor with joint pain therapy experience. This physiotherapist will design a specific care plan that will provide treatment and pain relief. Physical therapy can specifically help address weaknesses in specific joints and make them stronger and more supple over a surprisingly short timescale.