Living With Joint Pain
Unfortunately, joint pain is something that almost everyone is familiar with. Whether you are the person who is suffering, or you know someone with joint pain, you can understand the physical and emotional toll chronic pain has on a person.
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Many people with arthritis or related diseases live in near-constant pain, which can limit their movement and negatively impact their quality of life. While you may understand what chronic joint pain looks or even feels like, you may not fully understand how and why it happens.
Today’s post is dedicated to helping you not only understand why joint pain occurs but also what types are most common and what you can do to live your best life in spite of it.
Why Does Joint Pain Occur?
Before we can look at home remedies or professional treatment options, it is important to understand both the anatomy of your joints and how they function as well.
Most frequently, the joints that are causing pain are called synovial joints. This type of joint is what allows movements like bending your limbs, pivoting your neck, flexing your fingers, and walking or running with a smooth gait. Though synovial joints are found all throughout the body and take many different forms, they share a similar makeup. This similarity is what facilitates everyday motion, but it is also what causes so much pain when the joint wears down.
A joint is any place in your body where two bones come together. To prevent rough, bone-on-bone scraping, the ends of the bones are covered with a thin layer of sturdy cartilage. This is similar to covering wooden feet on furniture to prevent harsh scraping against a wood floor. An even thinner membrane covers the bone and cartilage surfaces of the joint, and inside this membrane is synovial fluid. Synovial fluid provides cushioning and lubrication for every joint so that motion is effortless and impact from movement is fully absorbed.
Joint pain occurs when one or more parts of your joint’s anatomy are not functioning properly. Sometimes, the source of the pain can even be the soft tissues surrounding your joint. Below are the most common types of joint pain and why they occur.
Common Types of Joint Pain
By far, the most commonly seen type of joint pain is caused by arthritis. Contrary to common belief, arthritis is not a single condition but rather a blanket term that refers to over 100 different types of joint conditions. Generally speaking, arthritis is characterized by swelling, pain, stiffness and limited range of motion in one or more joints.
This is sometimes referred to as degenerative arthritis. With osteoarthritis, the protective layer of cartilage that was mentioned earlier wears away. Without the necessary cushioning, the bones rub together and cause pain, swelling and stiffness. Without treatment, the joint can weaken and become permanently misshapen.
- Inflammatory Arthritis
Essentially, this type of arthritis is an autoimmune disease, which means your immune system begins mistakenly attacking your own body. When this happens, the constant state of inflammation can lead to joint erosion and permanent internal damage if not managed properly.
Rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis are two common sources of this type of joint pain. This category of arthritis typically crops up because of genetic factors, but environmental triggers like smoking can increase the likelihood of these diseases.
- Metabolic Arthritis
Gout is the most common example of metabolic arthritis. Many of the foods we consume contain chemical compounds called purines. While purines are also created by our bodies as to use as building blocks, the purines we consume in food cannot be used. Instead, they are metabolized by the liver. Once the purines are broken down, the liver releases a waste product called uric acid, which is eventually filtered into our urine.
If too much uric acid builds up in the body because of excessive purine consumption or natural overproduction, it can lead to a buildup of sharp, needle-like uric acid crystals in the joints. These crystals are the reason that gout is such a painful disease, and they are also the reason that some forms of gout are intermittent.
- Non-Arthritic Joint Pain
There are some cases where the pain felt in a joint is caused by ligaments or tissues surrounding the joint. If this is the case, the most frequent culprits are fibromyalgia, bursitis or tendinitis.
Fibromyalgia affects both muscles and soft tissue, causing widespread pain. Bursitis is an inflammation of the bursae, which are the fluid-filled sacs that cushion your joints. Tendinitis occurs when the cord that connects your bone and muscle, called a tendon, becomes inflamed or irritated through overuse.
Joint Pain Remedies
For short-term relief of joint pain, following a regimen of rest, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs, compression and temperature therapy can be useful.
If possible, immobilizing the painful joint with a brace or splint can alleviate pain by allowing the joint to rest. Taking drugs like acetaminophen or naproxen at regular intervals can also help by minimizing inflammation, which will decrease the pain. If the joint is swollen, applying gentle compression can reduce the fluid buildup and prevent any further swelling. For inflamed joints, utilizing an ice pack for 15 to 20 minutes at a time can lessen pain. For tightness or spasms, applying heat instead can relieve the spasms and lessen the pain.
Living with joint pain doesn’t mean you have to stop doing things you love. In fact, staying active and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can significantly improve many instances of joint pain. Consider trying a new, low-impact activity such as swimming, yoga or cycling.
Making small changes to your diet can help you manage joint pain as well. Not only will weight loss reduce the amount of stress on your joints, but foods like fresh fruits, leafy greens, lean proteins and whole grains can help reduce inflammation and increase energy levels.
One final tip is to take extra time with self-care. Practices like mindfulness and meditation can help you manage pain while keeping a positive outlook. In addition, simple things like soaking in a warm bath, consistently applying topical medication or opting for a regular massage to keep swelling down can make a huge impact on your well-being.
Finding Treatment for Joint Pain
If your joint pain is persistent or severe, it’s time to seek help. Most doctors and orthopedic specialists will formulate a customized treatment plan that is tailored to your specific needs.
For many, once pain levels are under control, a physical therapy regimen is recommended so you can retain a full range of motion in the affected joints. Some specialists recommend supplemental care like chiropractic treatments or massage therapy, and others will be able to give you specialized lifestyle tips and support through every stage of your treatment.
Occasionally, the answer to your joint pain is surgery. This is generally a last resort for treatment specialists, but there are times when it is the best, most effective option. Schedule an appointment with your doctor sooner rather than later to discuss what your options are.
Joint pain is an inevitable part of life for most people, but now that you understand how and why it happens, you will be able to make better, more informed choices about overcoming it.