Why Do My Joints Hurt?

The symptoms of joint pain vary from one person to another and depending on the problem of origin. Despite these differences, some events are quite common:

  • Stiffness - pain limiting joint movement
  • Swelling of the joint
  • Loss of function of the joint

The severity of the symptoms will be proportional to the extent of damage to your joint. A hot-touch joint suggests that the inflammation or infection is severe and continuous, which is an emergency requiring medical intervention.

Pain in one or more joints may be the result of a variety of relatively common health problems. If it is usually associated with aging, joint pain is not just for seniors. For example, a sports injury such as an ankle sprain can result in severe joint pain with joint swelling, movement limitation and other symptoms among those described above.

The most common causes of joint pain in the general population are:

  • injuries
  • osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Other causes, for example an infection or a tumor

This is probably the main cause of joint pain; few will not experience it at least once in their life.

Joint injuries can occur during sports, falls, or everyday situations, such as twisting an ankle or causing a joint to move beyond its capacity.

The joint structures most commonly affected in these situations are the ligaments that hold the bones together. If the injury is serious, there may be more than one damaged, broken or severely torn ligament. The muscles and their tendons, around the joints, can also suffer lesions and develop inflammation.

The most common of these joint injuries is sprained ankle, followed by knee ligament damage - a classic injury in footballers.

Osteoarthritis, also known as osteoarthritis or "arthritis by attrition", is probably the second most common cause of joint pain. It is a condition associated with age, which manifests itself first in one or sometimes two joints.

Large joints that support the weight of the body, such as the hips or knees, are usually the first to become painful.

Osteoarthritis in the bones of the lumbar spine can cause pain in the lower back (lumbago or low back pain); similar wear in the bones of the cervical spine may also lead to pain in the neck (neck pain).

In comparison to osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis is a problem that can lead to joint pain at a relatively young age. It is an autoimmune disease, while the immune system, whose usual role is to defend the body against invaders such as bacteria and viruses, rather attacks its own cells.

In general, rheumatoid arthritis causes pain in many joints at the same time. Unlike osteoarthritis, the disease tends to first affect the smaller joints, including those of the hands and feet.

The symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis can be intermittent. Pain crises can be followed by periods of lull. This is a serious health problem, which must be diagnosed and managed by a doctor or health professional.

Gout is a metabolic disorder characterized by the formation of uric acid crystals in the blood; these crystals are subsequently lodged in the joints and other tissues. The presence of uric acid in the joints will cause an inflammatory reaction, which in turn will cause swelling and pain.

In the classical scenario, the joints of the big toes are the first to be affected. Other joints such as knees, elbows and fingers may also be affected. Read more about gout.

Joint pain can also result from a whole range of rarer health problems. Here are a few :

  • Joint infections
  • Other infections (eg, Lyme disease, gonorrhea)
  • Bone tumors
  • Allergic reactions to drugs
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Excessive intake of vitamin A

All the above conditions are serious and require medical supervision. You should also see your doctor if your joint pain is severe and has not been diagnosed or is getting worse. If you do not notice any improvement after four weeks of self-medication, also seek medical assistance.