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Joint pain is a widespread problem with many causes but, in most cases, it’s due to an injury or arthritis. You may have pain in one joint or many.

Summary introduction

Commonly affected joints are the hip, knee, shoulder, wrists and fingers. Knees are one of the most often damaged as they take your full body weight and extra force when running, jumping or dancing. This means you're more at risk of joint pain if you're overweight or do a lot of sports.

Causes of joint pain

Injury

Sudden pain and swelling in a joint may be caused by an injury, such as a fracture or a tear (a sprain) to a tendon, ligament or cartilage. You may also experience bleeding into the joint space after an injury. This is more likely if you’re taking anticoagulants (blood thinners). If you think you’ve injured a joint and it's causing severe pain, you should go to A&E right away.

Inflammation

Pain in just one joint could be inflammation of a tissue in your joint. It's often accompanied by swelling and tenderness. Inflammation can be caused by many conditions, including:

  • Inflammation of the bursa – a fluid-filled sac that cushions your bones
  • Tendonitis is injury and inflammation in a tendon – a common example is tennis elbow
  • Inflammation of the joint lining (synovitis) which can occur after an injury

Arthritis

There are many types of arthritis - a range of conditions that cause pain and stiffness within your joints. The most common that are likely to cause joint pain are:

  • Gout causes sudden intense pain with heat and red skin around your joint
  • Osteoarthritis is joint pain that gradually gets worse affecting one or many joints – it's more common in older people
  • Rheumatoid arthritis usually causes pain in many joints, often the hands, feet and wrists – the pain can come and go and you may feel tired and flu-like
  • Septic arthritis is an infection in a joint that can be painful, hot and swollen – you may also have a fever
  • Psoriatic arthritis­ can affect people with psoriasis, making joints painful, stiff and swollen
  • Lupus is a chronic (long-term) condition causing inflammation in not only your joints, but also your skin and other organs

There are many other causes of joint pain. It's important to see your GP as soon as possible if your symptoms don't improve and are affecting your day-to-day life.

Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about symptoms

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Getting a diagnosis for joint pain

Your GP will ask you about your symptoms and how it's been affecting you. They'll carry out a physical examination, including asking you to perform some simple exercises involving the affected joints.

After this, your GP may refer you for more tests to investigate further and discover the cause of your joint pain, including:

  • Blood tests
  • Ultrasound scan
  • MRI scan
  • X-ray

Treatments for joint pain

Your doctor will recommend treatment depending on the cause of your joint pain. In some cases, resting, along with taking over-the-counter painkillers (if advised by your doctor), may be enough.

You may need to stop doing activities that make any pain worse.

Depending on your diagnosis, other joint pain treatments may be needed including:

  • Medication (including painkillers, anti-inflammatories or drugs that specifically treat your condition)
  • Physiotherapy
  • Joint injections

In cases where your joint is severely damaged, your doctor may recommend joint replacement.

Enquire about treatments at your local Spire hospital

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