Joint pain can occur in one or more joints and may result from different types of injuries, infections, or disease. Whatever the cause of joint pain, it can cause extreme discomfort and seriously affect the quality of someone’s life. Many different conditions can lead to painful joints, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, bursitis, gout, strains, sprains and other injuries. Joint pain is extremely common; knees, shoulders and hips are the joints most usually affected but joint pain can affect any part of your body, from your ankles to your shoulders. As you get older, painful joints become increasingly common.
Joint pain can range from mildly irritating to debilitating. It may go away after a few weeks (acute), or last for several weeks or months (chronic). Your doctor will first try to diagnose and treat the condition that is causing your joint pain and their aim will be to reduce pain and inflammation, and preserve the functioning of the joints.
Drug treatments for joint pain
There is currently no known cure for conditions like osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis so the medical treatment of these conditions aims to reduce joint pain, improve joint mobility and quality of life and restrict functional impairment, while limiting any drug side effects. Most drug treatments are prescribed for relief of symptoms rather than being a cure.
Non Steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDS).
The commonly used nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) give relief of pain and inflammation and are considered relatively safe. Examples of NSAIDs include paracetamol, ibuprofen, naproxen, diclofenac and indomethacin. COX-2 inhibitors are a newer class of anti-inflammatory drugs which selectively block the COX-2 enzyme that in turn prevents the production of chemical messengers or prostaglandins that are responsible for the pain and swelling of arthritis.
Steroids may occasionally be required, either as a low dose tablet or as an injection into the affected joint. These may be prescribed for rapid relief of pain, swelling and inflammation around affected joints. Other injection options include removing fluid from the joint (this only relieves pain temporarily because the fluid eventually builds up again) and injections of hyaluronan, a synthetic version of the natural joint fluid.
Dietary supplements for joint pain
Dietary supplements are increasingly being used in the management of specific painful joint conditions. Glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate supplements are sometimes used in patients with osteoarthritis, as these are believed to replenish worn-down connective tissue that cushions the bones. Others include niacinamide (a form of vitamin B3), S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe), as well as ginger and turmeric.
Physical therapy is often prescribed as a treatment for people with joint pain. This may be limited to daily walking and stretching exercises, or muscle-strengthening exercises under supervision. Measures such as traction (gentle and steady pulling), massage, and manipulation of joints contribute to improved joint mobility and flexibility.
If you suffer from joint pain you have to try to find a balance between rest and activity. Rest is important when the pain flares but excessive rest may result in stiffness of joints and weakened muscles. Managing joint pain can often be accomplished by a combination of symptom relief, weight control and exercise, which can reduce wear and tear on the joints. Physical exercise helps to improve muscle strength and flexibility and mobility. Excessive weight can aggravate joint pain so weight reduction is very important in the management of joint pain. A healthy well-balanced diet coupled with exercise will help in reducing weight. Giving up smoking is also important since smoking adversely affects bone health.
Other treatments for joint pain
Heat: pain relief may be obtained by applying heat to painful, stiff joints for 20 minutes up to three times a day since heat increases local blood flow and improves flexibility. Warm towels, hot packs and heating pads may all be used for this.
Cold: using cold packs or over the counter cooling sprays may relieve acute pain by numbing nerves around the joint.
Hydrotherapy: exercising in warm water reduces muscle tension and the water itself takes some weight off painful joints, making exercising easier.
Coping strategies: relaxation techniques release muscle tension throughout the body. Keep yourself busy but make sure you also find time for yourself. Focus on things you enjoy doing and set yourself small but important goals.
Physiotherapy; you can work with a physiotherapist to strengthen the muscles around the joint, stabilise the joint, and improve your range of motion. The therapist will use techniques such as ultrasound, heat or cold therapy, electrical nerve stimulation and manipulation.
Home care; you can relieve short-term joint pain with a few simple techniques at home. One 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 5-10 minutes, several times each day
- Compress the joint using an elastic wrap
- Elevate the joint above the level of your heart
No matter what treatment your doctor recommends, get medical help right away if the pain gets intense, your joint suddenly becomes inflamed or deformed, or you can no longer use the joint at all.