37 Joint Pain Questions Answered
Joint pain is a common issue to have. Its underlying causes range from acute injury and overuse to more chronic conditions like arthritis, and anyone of any age can experience it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15 million, or one in four, adults reported experiencing severe joint pain related to arthritis. Millions more experience joint pain for other reasons each year.
Yet despite its commonality, many questions surround joint pain, its causes, relief, and prevention. In this article, we'll answer the most common questions about joint pain all in one place.
1. What is Joint Pain
Joint pain is any type of discomfort, aches, soreness, or inflammation in the joints. These are the body areas where the bones connect, such as the shoulders, hips, elbows, wrists, or knees. The pain may arise in the cartilage, bone, ligaments, tendons, or muscles of the joints.
Joint pain can be acute or chronic and may be caused by various factors, including sprains, tendonitis, arthritis, and arthralgia.
2. Is Joint Pain a Symptom of COVID?
Joint pain could be a symptom of COVID-19. According to a Chinese study conducted in 2020, joint pain was found in 14.9% of COVID-19 cases. However, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) does not currently list joint pain as a symptom, as data on the coronavirus's effect on joint health is still limited. Typically, COVID-19 is more likely to cause pain in the muscles rather than the joints.
However, if you're experiencing joint pain alongside other known COVID-19 symptoms, such as a fever or shortness of breath, it's best to see your doctor and get tested for COVID-19 as soon as possible.
3. How to sleep with joint pain?
SI joint pain can often worsen when sleeping due to prolonged pressure being placed on the body's affected side. To reduce pain while sleeping, lay on your stronger side with the painful side up. Bend one leg up and relax the affected hip back. It may also help to place a pillow between your knees and use other support cushions to keep your spine aligned in a natural position.
4. What does joint pain feel like?
In general, the way joint pain feels can vary depending on its underlying cause. You may feel a dull ache or soreness in the affected joint, or you may experience a burning, sharp, or grating pain that is more severe.
5. What does SI joint pain feel like?
SI, or sacroiliac, joint pain is caused by damage or injury to the joints connecting the spine and hips. The pain usually manifests in the lower back and buttocks area but can also spread to the lower hip, groin, or upper thigh. Usually, SI joint pain is felt on one side but sometimes can occur on both sides. There may also be numbness, tingling, or weakness in the leg.
Depending on the cause, SI joint pain can be minor or severe, as well as acute or chronic. The pain may worsen when sitting, standing, walking, sleeping, or climbing stairs, especially if these activities are done for a long time.
6. Is facet joint pain permanent?
For the most part, yes. Facet joint syndrome, or pain felt in the lower spine's facet joints, is not caused by injury but instead develops with age. Because of this, the only way to truly get rid of facet joint pain is through surgery. However, many people with facet joint syndrome can manage their joint pain by avoiding activities that involve twisting the spine, like golf, by resting, and by taking medication.
Joint Pain Causes
Because joint pain can have many causes, it can sometimes be hard to pinpoint what's behind your joint pain. In this section, we'll go through what causes -- and doesn't cause -- joint pain.
7. What Foods Cause Joint Pain?
According to the Arthritis Foundation, several foods and beverages have been linked with increased inflammation and joint pain. These include:
- Added sugars: Foods with added sugar such as candy, ketchup, barbecue sauce, ice cream, and soda (among many others) can trigger cytokine, an inflammatory marker, and cause joint pain or worsen symptoms of arthritis.
- Trans fats: Foods high in trans fats, like fast food, fried food, processed snacks, cookies, and donuts, can trigger systemic inflammation.
- Saturated fats: Foods high in saturated fats such as pizza, cheese, red meat, and pasta dishes can trigger fat tissue inflammation and worsen inflammation in those with arthritis.
- Omega 6 fatty acids: These are found in oils like corn, safflower, sunflower, grapeseed, soy, peanut, and vegetable, as well as mayonnaise and many salad dressings. While the body needs omega-six fatty acids, too much of them can trigger pro-inflammatory chemicals.
- Refined carbs: Foods with refined carbohydrates, like white bread, white rice, white potatoes, and some cereals can fuel the production of advanced glycation end products that can cause inflammation.
- MSG: Foods with MSG such as soy sauce, prepared Asian food, fast food, prepared soups, salad dressings, and deli meats can trigger pathways of chronic inflammation.
- Alcohol: Too much alcohol can weaken the liver, disrupt multi-organ interactions, and cause inflammation.
8. What Protein Causes Joint Pain?
- Processed and red meats: A diet high in processed and red meats, like ham, bacon, hot dogs, beef, and salami, have been found to increase inflammatory markers like interleukin-6, C-reactive protein, and homocysteine. Inflammation can cause joint pain and worsen symptoms in conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.
- Gluten: This group of proteins found in wheat, rye, barley, and triticale may increase inflammation, especially for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.
9. What Causes Pain in the Thumb Joint?
According to Healthline, pain in your thumb joints may be caused by a few factors:
- Overuse: We use our thumbs for many things, and sometimes the joint may be overused or overextended. This can cause pain, soreness, warmth, or tingling in the joint.
- Injury or sprain: An injured, sprained, or broken thumb, typically caused by contact sports or falls, can cause pain, swelling, or stiffness in the joint. If the joint is broken, the pain will often be more intense and make you feel nauseated.
- Carpal tunnel syndrome: Carpal tunnel syndrome may cause thumb joint pain that feels like weakness, numbness, tingling, or burning.
- Basal joint or rheumatoid arthritis: With these conditions, the cartilage in your thumb joint can break down. This can cause a burning, stabbing, or less intense creaking pain in the joint.
10. What Causes Stiff Joints?
According to Healthline, stiff joints can be caused by a few factors:
- Aging: It's common for joints to wear down and stiffen as we age. Many people especially feel stiffness in the mornings because the fluid in our joints is reduced as we sleep.
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA): RA is a chronic inflammatory disorder and autoimmune disease that can cause your immune system to attack healthy joint lining. This can cause joint inflammation, pain, and stiffness.
- Osteoarthritis: Osteoarthritis, or degenerative arthritis, is caused by your joint cartilage wearing away over time. This can cause stiffness in the joints, like the knees, hips, fingers, neck, and back.
- Lupus: Lupus is another autoimmune disease that can sometimes attack your joints, causing stiffness, pain, and swelling.
- Bursitis: Bursitis is a condition where bursae, the fluid-filled sacs that cushion the bones, muscles, and ligaments in your joints, become inflamed. This can cause stiffness and pain in the affected joints, typically the elbow, shoulder, or hip.
- Gout: Gout is a type of arthritis that causes sudden severe joint stiffness, pain, and tenderness. It can affect any joint, but typically the big toe is the first to be affected.
- Bone cancer: Though it's rare, bone cancer can sometimes cause joint pain and stiffness.
11. What Causes Pain in Multiple Joints?
Pain in multiple joints, also referred to as polyarthralgia, can have a variety of causes. These include:
- Injuries and fractures
- Viral infection
- Overuse or overextension of the joints
- Autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus
- Septic arthritis
12. Can stress cause joint pain? Can anxiety cause joint pain?
Yes, stress and anxiety can cause pro-inflammatory molecules to be released in your body, leading to stress inflammation. Inflammation can often cause swelling and pain in the joints. You may also cope with stress by sitting, moving, and behaving differently, such as shaking your leg, lying down more often, and exercising less. These behavior changes can sometimes cause joint pain.
Additionally, long-term stress may put you more at risk of autoimmune diseases. Some autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, can affect the joints and cause pain, stiffness, and swelling. If stress-induced joint pain becomes chronic, talk to your doctor. If an autoimmune disease is the underlying cause of your joint pain, it's best to seek medical help to prevent further joint damage.
- Injuries and fractures
- Viral infection
- Overuse or overextension of the joints
- Autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus
- Septic arthritis
13. Does change in barometric pressure cause muscle and joint pain?
Yes, when barometric pressure changes, our tendons, muscles, and the tissues surrounding them can expand or contract, which can cause joint pain. A drop in barometric pressure can also cause joints to swell, causing nerve irritation and discomfort. Those with arthritis and other similar conditions are most likely to feel pain due to barometric pressure changes.
14. Can collagen supplements cause joint pain?
No, there is no known link between taking collagen supplements and experiencing joint pain. According to Healthline, collagen actually helps support our joint cartilage. Many studies have shown that collagen supplements can reduce inflammation, relieve pain, and stimulate further collagen production in the body.
15. Can Gluten Cause Joint Pain?
Yes, for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, consuming wheat or wheat products can cause joint pain. In these cases, the immune system has an inflammatory response to gluten, affecting the body's soft tissue and sometimes causing the joints to ache. Additionally, some studies link gluten to increased inflammation in the general population.
16. Can Allergies Cause Joint Pain?
Yes, allergic reactions can cause inflammation of the affected area or throughout our bodies. This, in turn, can sometimes cause aches and pains in our joints and muscles.
17. Can electric Blakets Cause Joint Pain?
No, there is no known risk of joint pain associated with electric blankets. Using an electric blanket or heating pad for heat therapy can help reduce joint pain. Heat expands the blood vessels, increases circulation in the area where it is applied and stimulates sensory receptors to block pain signals.
18. Does Dehydration Cause Joint Pain?
Yes, dehydration can be linked to joint pain. According to Orthopedic Associates, about 70 to 80% of your joint cartilage consists of water. This serves as lubrication and cushioning between the joints, keeping the bones from rubbing against each other. Dehydration results in less lubrication between the bones, causing more friction and pain in the joints.
19. Does Diabetes Cause Joint Pain?
Yes, without the proper treatment, diabetes can break down the musculoskeletal system. In turn, this can damage the joints and nerves, causing joint pain, inflammation, stiffness, and a limited range of joint motion. Additionally, according to the Arthritis Foundation, people with diabetes are nearly twice as likely to develop arthritis.
20. Does Diabetes Cause Joint Pain?
Joint pain is not typically a side effect of birth control. However, according to Healthline, some women taking hormonal birth control have experienced joint pain and other less common side effects. If your birth control is causing you any type of discomfort for longer than 2-3 months, it's best to talk to your doctor about other birth control options.
21. Can Dairy Cause Joint Pain?
Unfortunately, there is no clear answer to this. According to the Arthritis Foundation, studies on the link between dairy and inflammation have resulted in conflicting evidence. This is mainly because "dairy" includes many different foods with different components, such as milk, yogurt, cheese, or ice cream.
In general, dairy may have anti-inflammatory effects. However, some dairy that is high in saturated fats, like cheese or butter, can increase inflammation and joint pain. An allergy to lactose can also make your body more sensitive to other components of dairy products. Overall, if you believe dairy may be causing your joint pain, it's best to experiment by cutting dairy out of your diet and seeing if joint pain is reduced.
22. Can hypothyroidism cause joint pain?
Yes, for some people, hypothyroidism can cause joint pain and stiffness, and swelling of the joints in the hand and feet. This is because an underactive thyroid slows your metabolism, which can sometimes cause fluid build-up and swelling in the joints.
23. Can low iron cause joint pain?
No, joint pain is not typically associated with low iron and iron deficiency. However, chronically low iron levels may negatively affect your bone health, leading to other issues such as bone loss and osteoporosis.
24. Can menopause cause joint pain?
Yes. The hormonal changes involved in menopause can cause joint pain in the knees, shoulders, neck, elbows, or hands. The hormone estrogen helps to reduce inflammation. When estrogen levels drop during menopause, inflammation may increase and cause pain and discomfort in the joints.
25. Does Sugar Cause Joint Pain?
Yes. Sugar, mainly processed sugar, can cause overactivity in the immune system. This can lead to joint pain and inflammation, among other issues.
26. Can Cold Cause Joint Pain?
Yes, lower temperatures are associated with increased joint pain. When it's cold, our bodies conserve heat and circulate blood more to the heart, lungs, and other organs than to areas like the knees, arms, and shoulders. Less blood in these areas makes the blood vessels constrict, which can cause stiffness, pain, and discomfort.
Joint Pain Relief
You may be wondering how to relieve joint pain, especially if it's keeping you from enjoying daily life. In this section, we'll cover all the different ways to relieve joint pain.
27. What to Take for Joint Pain?
The type of over-the-counter medication to take for joint pain depends on whether you're also experiencing swelling or inflammation.
- For joint pain with swelling or inflammation: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen sodium (Aleve)
- For joint pain without swelling: Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
Suppose your joint pain is too severe to be helped by over-the-counter medication. In that case, your doctor may prescribe you more potent doses of these medications or with other drugs like muscle relaxers, topical medications, or steroid injections.
28. What vitamins are good for joint pain? Does magnesium help with joint pain?
Vitamins D and K, calcium, and magnesium are vitamins and nutrients that contribute to bone health and strength. Additionally, magnesium can have an anti-inflammatory effect. A deficiency in any of these may contribute to joint pain, and taking supplements may reduce said pain. However, in regards to general joint pain, there is little evidence to support that supplementing vitamin D or K, calcium, or magnesium is helpful.
That said, there are a few other natural supplements that are good for joint pain, including:
- Glucosamine and chondroitin: Glucosamine and chondroitin are both naturally found in cartilage. Cartilage is the substance that cushions the joints to prevent bones from painfully rubbing against each other. These may help prevent cartilage breakdown and are commonly used to reduce arthritis symptoms.
- SAMe: S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAMe) is naturally produced by your liver and helps make and repair cartilage, among other functions. This supplement is typically used to reduce joint pain from osteoarthritis.
- Turmeric: Turmeric has pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects.
- Fish oil: Fish oil contains omega-three fatty acids, which can be anti-inflammatory.
29. What Foods are Good for Joint Pain?
When eating to reduce joint pain, you'll want to consume healthy foods to reduce inflammation in the body. Some of these include:
- Fatty fish, like salmon, mackerel, sardines, and trout
- Walnuts, almonds, chia seeds, flax seeds, or pine nuts
- Spinach and other leafy greens, like kale and arugula
- Lentils and beans
- Olive oil
- Tart cherry juice
Generally, a Mediterranean diet is known to be good for reducing joint pain and symptoms of arthritis. This is a whole-food, plant-based diet that emphasizes low-glycemic foods and reduces intake of refined foods, dairy, and red meat. It includes much, if not all, of the food listed above.
30. What is Good for Joint Pain?
In addition to the medication, supplements, and food we've mentioned in previous questions, there are a few things you can do at home that are good for joint pain. WebMD describes it as the PRICE method:
- Protect: Keep the joint in a sling or wrap to keep it protected.
- Rest: Rest the joint by refraining from activities that may cause pain.
- Ice: Applying ice to the joint for about 15 minutes, multiple times a day, can help reduce pain and inflammation. However, if muscle spasms cause joint pain, a heating pad may be a better option.
- Compress: Use an elastic wrap to compress the joint.
- Elevate: Elevate the joint above heart-level.
31. How to Reduce Joint Inflammation?
Joint inflammation can be reduced in the same ways you can reduce joint pain, as joint pain is often caused by joint inflammation. This includes eating an anti-inflammatory diet (covered in "What foods are good for joint pain?") and taking over-the-counter NSAIDs like ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen. Ice therapy may also be helpful.
If joint inflammation is severe and remains painful after these remedies, consider talking to your doctor. They may suggest corticosteroid injections or even surgery.
32. What Helps Stiff Joints?
There are a few things that can help you find relief from stiff joints. These include:
- Hot or cold therapy: Both hot and cold therapy can reduce stiffness in the joints. Applying ice or a cold compress to the stiff joint for 15 to 20 minutes can reduce inflammation and pain and help the joints move easier. Applying heat through a heating pad or warm water can increase circulation to relieve stiff joints.
- Over-the-counter medication: Medications like aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen can relieve pain and stiffness.
- Exercise: Low-impact exercise like walking and yoga can help increase joint mobility and help you lose weight to reduce strain on the joints.
33. How to Fix AC Joint Pain?
The AC, or acromioclavicular, joint is the joint where the collarbone meets the shoulder blade. Typically pain in this region is caused by arthritis, fractures, or separations resulting from overuse or injury.
To relieve pain in the AC joint, you'll want to rest the joint by reducing activities that intensify the pain. For instance, if you lift weights, you may bench press only part of the way down or avoid the bench press entirely, opting for an exercise that's lighter on the AC joint, like a butterfly lift.
Icing the joint can also help reduce pain and inflammation. Apply ice directly to the joint for 20 to 30 minutes after athletic activities or, if necessary, multiple times daily. Anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen and aspirin can also help.
Additionally, some exercises can help strengthen the area and reduce pain.
If these remedies don't help or the pain is incredibly severe, it's best to contact your doctor for additional treatment options.
34. Is Walking Good for SI Joint Pain?
Yes. With SI joint pain, you'll want to avoid high-intensity aerobic activity, such as jogging. Lower-intensity activities like walking, bike riding, or yoga are less likely to hurt your lower back. Start slow and wear comfortable shoes, aiming for about 20 minutes a couple of days a week. Only add more time or increase your speed if you don't feel any pain while walking.
35. What Kind of Doctor for Joint Pain?
If you're experiencing joint pain, you'll first want to visit your primary doctor to discuss your symptoms. They may also conduct a physical exam and order other tests to determine the best course of treatment. At first, they may recommend or prescribe pain-relief medications.
If treatment from your primary doctor does not seem to help, they may refer you to one of two doctors: an orthopedist or a rheumatologist. Orthopedists specialize in diagnosing and treating bone and joint diseases, while rheumatologists specialize in diagnosing inflammatory autoimmune diseases and the non-surgical treatment of them. Depending on your symptoms, your primary doctor will direct you to the proper specialist to get the help you need.
36. How to Relieve Finger Joint Pain?
If the pain is minor, rest the affected joint and apply ice to reduce pain and swelling. Taping the injured finger to another, more stable finger can provide support. You may also consider taking over-the-counter medication such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen or using a topical cream or ointment.
If your pain is more severe or does not stop after 1-2 weeks of home remedies, contact your doctor. It's also best to contact your doctor if the pain is accompanied by fever, inability to flex your fingers, numbness or tingling, or visible bone.
Joint Pain Prevention
Some underlying causes of joint pain aren't always preventable. However, you can include a few habits in your daily life to prevent joint pain to the best of your ability.
37. How to Prevent Joint Pain?
Some habits to prevent joint pain include:
- Consuming calcium: Regular calcium intake through milk, cheese, yogurt, or leafy greens helps build strong bones and, in turn, strong joints.
- Getting enough vitamin D: Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium to build strong bones. You can get vitamin D through sunlight exposure, salmon, fortified milk and cereal, or supplements.
- Staying at a healthy weight: Being overweight or obese can put more stress on the bones, often leading to joint pain over time.
- Building muscle: Building muscle in your legs and abdomen helps them support your knees and back, reducing strain and preventing pain in those joints.
- Wearing comfortable shoes: Wearing comfortable shoes as often as possible reduces strain on the knees and ankles.
- Eating anti-inflammatory foods: Eating plenty of nutritious, anti-inflammatory foods (which we've listed in the "What foods are good for joint pain?" section) can help keep your joints from becoming inflamed.
- Staying hydrated: As we mentioned in the "Does dehydration cause joint pain?" section, staying hydrated maintains the fluid between your joints. This keeps your joints safe and cushioned.
- Avoid injuries: While you can't always prevent injuries from occurring, do your best by going slow when starting new activities, lifting heavy objects properly, and doing more low-impact exercises, like walking and yoga, to minimize high-impact activities, like tennis.
About the Author
Stephanie Schwarten is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelors degree in Professional Writing. She specializes in content marketing as well as both developmental and copy editing.
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