Joint pain is a common symptom in the UK. It is estimated that approximately 29% of people in the UK live with a ‘musculoskeletal condition’ - this refers to a health condition that affects the bones, muscles or joints.
What is joint pain?
The physical pain caused by health conditions that affect the bones, muscles or joints, can be disabling if not treated and managed effectively.
The most common sites of joint pain include the back, neck, knees, hips and hands. Some conditions result in widespread joint pain throughout the body.
Joint pain can vary in its severity, duration and pattern. It is often felt with stiffness, swelling, muscle aches and fatigue.
What commonly causes joint pain?
Joint pain is usually caused by arthritis - inflammation in the joints.
There are many different types of arthritis and each is managed differently:
Osteoarthritis is often described as ‘wear and tear’ in the joints. It is more likely to develop as people age, and any previously injured joints are more likely to be affected.It is mainly experienced in weight-bearing joints such as the knees and hips.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory arthritis that can affect people of any age. It often affects the wrists and hands, and can cause swellings over the joints as well as a range of other symptoms throughout the body (such as tiredness, fever and loss of appetite).
Gout is a painful joint condition caused by the build-up of urate crystals (a salt derived from uric acid in the body) inside the joint. It is most common in the big toe, but can occur in other joints too.
Other inflammatory arthritis
Other inflammatory arthritis such as psoriatic arthritis (which also affects the skin and nails), ankylosing spondylitis (which affects the joints in the spine) and juvenile idiopathic arthritis (which affects children and teenagers) are all joint pain causes.
Joint pain that comes on suddenly may be due to a fracture, an injury to a soft tissue structure around the joint (such as a ligament or tendon), or an infection in the joint.
How is joint pain diagnosed?
A joint pain specialist will take a careful history and ask questions about the symptoms. This is followed by a clinical examination of the affected and surrounding joints.
Depending on the findings, some further tests may be needed to identify the cause of the pain.
For sudden onset joint pain, it is likely that imaging may be needed to find the cause. An X-ray can help to look for any fractures, and an ultrasound or MRI scan can help to look for any soft tissue or nerve damage.
If the joint pain has come on more gradually, an X-ray may still be required to rule out a missed fracture or to look at any wear and tear in the bones.
Blood tests can be used to look for changes in some chemicals that show inflammation in the body.
They can also check bone vitamin and mineral levels (such as calcium and vitamin D).
In some cases, a sample of the fluid in the joint (known as an aspirate) is taken to look for the presence of bacteria or crystals.
What treatments are available for joint pain?
Cases of mild-to-moderate arthritis are managed well with painkillers, appropriate rest and targeted physiotherapy.
Here at The London Clinic, alongside our joint pain specialists we offer access to an experienced team of physical therapists who deliver tailored treatment plans.
More severe types of arthritis may need long-term medications and joint injections to reduce inflammation and the number of flare-ups.
Chronic, or long-term, joint pain can occur in some people and they may benefit from seeing a joint pain specialist.