Joint Pain: What You Need to Know
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Joint pain can be discomfort, pain, or inflammation arising from any part of a joint—including cartilage, bone, ligaments, tendons, or muscles. Most commonly, however, joint pain refers to arthritis or arthralgia, which is inflammation or pain from within the joint itself.

Joint pain can be mild, causing soreness only after certain activities, or it can be severe, making even limited movement, particularly bearing weight, extremely painful.


Causes of joint pain include:

  • Adult Still’s disease
  • Ankylosing spondylitis
  • Avascular necrosis
  • Bone cancer
  • Broken bone
  • Bursitis
  • Complex regional pain syndrome
  • Dislocation
  • Meralgia paresthetica
  • Gonococcal arthritis
  • Gout
  • Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
  • Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis
  • Leukemia
  • Lupus
  • Lyme disease
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Osteomyelitis
  • Paget’s disease of bone
  • Polymyalgia rheumatica
  • Pseudogout
  • Psoriatic arthritis
  • Reactive arthritis
  • Sprains and strains
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Rickets
  • Sarcoidosis
  • Septic arthritis
  • Sprains and strains
  • Tendinitis

When to see a doctor

Joint pain is rarely an emergency. Most cases of mild joint pain can be successfully managed at home.

Make an appointment with your doctor if your joint pain is accompanied by:

  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Tenderness and warmth around the joint

See a doctor immediately if your joint pain is caused by an injury and is accompanied by:

  • Joint deformity
  • Inability to use the joint
  • Intense pain
  • Sudden swelling


When caring for mild joint pain at home, follow these tips:

  • Try an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or naproxen sodium (Aleve).
  • Avoid using your joint in ways that cause or worsen pain.
  • Apply ice or a package of frozen peas to your painful joint for 15 to 20 minutes a few times each day.
  • Apply a heating pad, soak in a warm tub, or take a warm shower to relax muscles and increase circulation.

Updated: 2016-02-26

Publication Date: 2008-08-29

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