A joint is a connection where two or more bones are joined together. Joints can be rigid, like the fibrous joints between the bones in your skull, can be slightly movable, like bones of the spine, or freely movable synovial joints, like shoulders, hips, and knees.
To facilitate weight bearing and movement of the body in space, joints majorly consist of ligaments (attachment structures between bones) and cartilages on the ends of the bones where they come together. Healthy cartilage helps you move by absorbing shock and minimizing friction thus protecting and allowing bones to glide over one another smoothly and safely.
Any damage to the joints from disease or injury can interfere with movement and cause a lot of pain. Pain in the joints, also called arthralgia, can limit an individual from functioning and participating in meaningful activities thus affecting one’s quality of life. Joint pain can also worsen the experience of other existing disease(s), even causing some people to stop treatment before its scheduled end. If you are experiencing joint pain, talk with your health care team.
Depending on the cause, joint pain can be mild or severe, can occur in one or multiple joints and can last for a short or long time. Common symptoms include experiencing pain with movement or even at rest, limited range of movement, stiffness after inactivity or during activity, swelling or tenderness at a joint, redness or warmth at a joint and inability to do everyday activities. Whatever your pain experience is, it is important to note the pattern of its occurrence and the aggravating or relieving factors. This information is important in diagnosing joint pain.
Causes of Joint Pains
Joint pain may occur as a result of the following:
- Traumatic joint pain: This is due to injury (trauma) of the joint such as sprains, strains, inflammation of tendons, tear of a ligament, tendon or meniscus, dislocations and fractures.
- Infection: Joint pain may be experienced due a viral, bacterial or fungal infection of the joint cavity or the bones forming the joint.(e.g. in osteomyelitis)
- Degenerative disease: Deterioration and “wear and tear” in joint structures over time result in increased friction and reduced shock absorption thus causing joint pain, e.g. in osteoarthritis.
- Rheumatic joint pain: Pain due to a rheumatic (autoimmune) disease, where your immune system goes awry and attacks your own tissues, examples are joint pains in Rheumatoid arthritis , Psoriatic arthritis, Lupus erythematosus, Ankylosing spondylitis, Reiter syndrome.
- Crystal induced joint pain: This is pain due to accumulation of urate crystals in your joint that cause inflammation and intense pain of gout attack.
- Cancer: Joint pain may occur due to presence of a cancerous tumor or spread (metastases) of the disease to a joint and its structures (e.g. in leukemia)
- Other causes of joint pain may include complex regional pain syndromes, drug reactions, other underlying health conditions such as sickle cell disease, fibromyalgia e.t.c
However, osteoarthritis is by far the most common chronic joint condition encountered by physical therapists and doctors.
Avoiding excess weight puts less stress on your joints, which can help reduce the wear and tear that may lead to osteoarthritis later in life.
Management of Joint Pains
Healthcare professionals are always careful during evaluation to identify any underlying dangerous condition for early intervention. Once diagnosed, management of joint pain mainly focuses on (1) reducing pain, (2) reducing inflammation, (3) facilitating healing, (4) preserving function, and (5) reversing or slowing the disease process.
a. Medical Intervention
Your doctor may prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), oral or topical applications, or you may benefit from corticosteroid injections into the joint for pain management. In case of infection, antibiotics and often surgical drainage may be performed, usually requiring hospitalization.
b. Physical Therapy for Joint and Muscle Rehabilitation
Physical therapy intervention involves strengthening the muscles around the joint, stabilizing the joint, and improving your range of motion. The therapist will use techniques such as ultrasound, heat or cold therapy, electrical nerve stimulation, and manipulation.
Your therapist will educate you on some pain relieving techniques that you could apply to relieve short term joint pain, where necessary, while at home. One such a method is known by the acronym, PRICE: Protect the joint with a brace or wrap; Rest the joint, avoiding any activities that cause you pain; Ice the joint for about 15 minutes, several times each day and Elevate the joint above the level of your heart.
In case you are overweight, losing weight can relieve some of the pressure on your painful joints. Your therapist will carefully guide you through exercises, one effective way to losing weight (along with diet), through appropriate tasks that wont further irritating the joint.
Advice and Recommendation
Keeping your joints healthy is important if you want to live a good quality of life. To help us stay healthy, let us embrace physical activity, a balanced diet, avoid injuries, and get plenty of sleep.
Avoiding excess weight puts less stress on your joints, especially in your knees, hips, and feet. This can help reduce the wear and tear that may lead to osteoarthritis later in life.
Regular activity helps keep the muscles around your joints strong and working normally. Even among those who are already experiencing joint illnesses, exercise will help reduce disability and keep the joints working well.