Joints form the connections between bones, providing bodily support and helping you navigate the world. Because of this, damage to the joints can interfere with your everyday movements and cause a lot of pain.
In one recent national survey, approximately one-third of adults reported having joint pain within the past 30 days. Knee pain was the most common complaint, followed by shoulder and hip pain. That being said, joint pain can appear in any part of the body, from your ankles and feet to your shoulders and hands.
To reduce pain and inflammation, and to preserve joint function, it is paramount to diagnose and treat the root condition of the resulting joint pain. We’ve compiled a list of the most common, but alarming, causes of joint pain, to help you identify its cause and ultimately ease the pain.
“Arthritis” is not a single disease; rather, it is a way of referring to more than 100 different types of joint pain or joint disease. Arthritis is the leading cause of disability in America, most common amongst older women. Common arthritis symptoms include swelling, pain, stiffness, and decreased range of motion.
The most well-known forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout. The most common chronic joint condition, osteoarthritis occurs when cartilage—which normally protects the joints—breaks down and causes the bones to rub directly against each other, triggering pain and swelling. Unlike osteoarthritis, which is caused by wear-and-tear, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune, chronic inflammatory disorder that occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks your body’s own tissues. The condition can also damage other systems, including the skin, eyes, lungs, heart, and blood vessels. Lastly, gout is a type of arthritis characterized by sudden, severe attacks of pain, swelling, redness, and tenderness in the joints, most often at the base of the big toe.
Less familiar but nonetheless common kinds of arthritis include psoriatic arthritis (a form of arthritis that affects some people who have psoriasis) and ankylosing spondylitis (inflammatory arthritis affecting the spine and large joints).
Though rare, cancer can start in any part of any bone. When a bone tumor grows, it presses on healthy bone tissues and can destroy them, which can cause a multitude of symptoms—some of which can be felt in the joints. A cancerous tumor that occurs near or in a joint may cause it to swell and become tender or stiff.
Broken bones, dislocations, sprains, and strains can all cause unpleasant joint pain throughout the body.
Bursitis is a painful inflammatory condition that affects the small, fluid-filled sacs—called bursae—that cushion the bones, tendons, and muscles near the joints. The most common locations for bursitis are in the shoulder, elbow, and hip.
Fibromyalgia is a disorder that causes widespread musculoskeletal pain and is often accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory, and mood problems. Episodes vary in severity and duration, and it may be triggered by physical or emotional stress. Fibromyalgia is most common in overweight women between the ages of 40 and 75.
Hypothyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland fails to produce enough thyroid hormone. Hypothyroidism may lead to joint pain and stiffness (especially in the shoulders and hips), swelling of the small joints in the hands and feet, and carpal tunnel syndrome.
Leukemia is a cancer of blood-forming tissues, including the bone marrow and the lymphatic system, that hinders the body’s ability to fight off infection. Leukemia can cause joint pain when bone marrow becomes overcrowded with cancer cells. These cells can sometimes form a mass near the spinal cord nerves or in the joints.
People with the autoimmune disease lupus have an overactive immune system that can mistakenly target joints, as well as skin, blood, kidneys, and other organs. About 90 percent of people with lupus have joint pain: In fact, more than half of patients say it was one of their first symptoms of the condition. The joints can also be swollen and feel stiff, tender, and warm.
Lyme disease is transmitted by the bite of some black-legged ticks, which can carry the disease. When Lyme disease is left untreated, usually weeks or months after the bite, the illness can spread to your joints, especially your knees or other large joints. Lyme disease will usually only affect one or two joints at a time.
Polymyalgia rheumatica is an inflammatory disorder that causes muscle pain and stiffness, especially in the shoulders. Symptoms of the conditional usually have a fast onset and feel worse in the morning. Most people who develop polymyalgia rheumatica are older than age 65.
Tendinitis is the inflammation or irritation of a tendon—the thick lining that attaches our muscles to our bones. The result is pain and tenderness just outside of a joint. While tendinitis can occur in any of your tendons, it’s most common around your shoulders, elbows, wrists, knees, and heels.