Discomfort, ache and pain in the joints is medically named arthralgia. It can be caused by a variety of different reasons such as trauma, degeneration, infection and disease.
Knowing what joint pain is and why it comes about is helpful so you can start to address any symptoms you may have. This guide to joint pain is here to take you from start to finish with education and helpful solutions for you to be living a pain-free life and remain active.
Joints are made up of a minimum of 2 bones which meet at a central part to form the joint. On the end of the bones, we have a tissue called cartilage which is smooth but firm and acts a cushion to help protect the bones from impact and allows pain-free movement. Ligaments are connective tissue which holds the bones together.
Surrounding the full joint we have a joint capsule which is a tissue which holds it all together and inside the capsule, there is synovial fluid in most joints to act as a lubricant for movement. We need to exercise and move regularly to keep all of those tissues happy and healthy.
If we become more specific, let’s look at the different types of joints in the body.
Saddle joint – this type of joint does not rotate but it does perform flexion, extension and side to side movement. The base of your thumb is a saddle joint.
Hinge joint – The hinge joint moves on one plane – just like a door hinge – it opens and shuts in the same direction. The knee and the elbow are hinge joints.
Condyloid joint – examples include your finger and jaw. Again there is no rotation from these joints and movement is limited to one direction.
Pivot joint has been named the pivot due to its rotatory function. It works because of one bone that can pivot in a loop formed from a second bone. These joints are situated between your ulna and radius bones that rotate your forearm – that allow rotation, and the joint between the 1st and 2nd cervical vertebrae in your neck.
Ball and socket joint – ie. the shoulder and hip. This is a self-explanatory joint – one bone is a socket, the other is a head that fits into the socket. Differences between the shoulder and hip are that the shoulder has a much shallower socket than the deep socket of the hip.
Gliding / Plane joint – Limited movement available, the smooth surfaces of the joint can glide over each other – the wrist joint is a perfect example.
Joint pain (depending on if there is any damage to the joint) may display symptoms of swelling – the amount depends on the severity of the problem and the structures involved.
Swelling can typically give off some warmth – this is a sign of inflammation which is good initially as it helps to heal the joint. After about 3 days the inflammation needs to be controlled and reduced to help improve symptoms.
Pain is an obvious next symptom which you will experience within a joint – typically people will describe the pain as being inside the joint and that they cannot touch it. If there has been external trauma to the joint then there may be some palpable pain present.
Joint pain can be present consistently but it will be more apparent with movement. Weight-bearing joints with joint pain such as the ankle, knee and hip will become more painful when walking, standing or running due to the pressure being exerted on aggravated tissues.
Loss of joint movement due to pain and or structural failure is common with joint pain, examples of this include an acutely sore knee from osteoarthritis.
The joint may be swollen and this can limit how much you can move the joint as it is full of swelling. If there has been structural damage to the joint (for instance, with a hip, knee or shoulder if there is any disruption to the cartilage which lines the joint) then this can stop the joint from moving properly and also limit your function whether it be walking, standing or lifting your arm.
Adapted movement due to pain – if a joint.
Once we reach about 50 years of age, our body will have a degree of arthritis in most of its joints. It is a term used to describe the process of ageing joints in which they lose their smooth surface.
This doesn’t mean that all of your joints will be painful, some people never experience any pain from worn joints. However, if you do experience arthritic pain then this usually comes in flares which are periods where the joint will be aggravated.
This is slightly different from osteoarthritis as it is an autoimmune condition which causes the body to attack itself making joints hot, swollen and painful. Again – symptoms occur in flares and string prescribed medication is usually needed to manage this problem.
If any of your joints suffer trauma such as a fall, blunt trauma or a hyperextension/twist injury then this can typically cause joint pain. When a joint is taken to its limit it has an impact on the joints hard and soft tissues – this can cause damage and irritation.
Flat feet, knock knees, bowed legs, leg length discrepancy are common biomechanical problems where the joints are not being loaded as they would be usually and they bear weight and perform movements in different ways.
A classic example is when someone has a leg length discrepancy and the shorter leg can often suffer more impact causing joint pain in the ankle, knee, hip and back.
Joint infection is rare but it must be watched for carefully. If you have been recently ill or had any skin abrasions which have let an infection into the body.
Look out for extreme heat, pain and swelling in the joint which are all indicators you may have developed an infection. If you see any of these signs then you must go to accident and emergency.
Childhood growing pains
When we are younger we are growing at a rapid rate and one of the by-products of quick growth can be pain in the joints. When bones grow they break apart at places called growth plates and between the spaces that break apart – new bone forms and this allows bones to lengthen.
It can be quite common for youngsters to experience pain in the knees on an evening or night time during periods of growth.
Joint Pain Rehab
Krill Oil – has been having positive results in research for its effectiveness with joint health. It is thought to have anti-inflammatory properties which can help reduce joint pain and improve joint health.
Glucosamine and chondroitin have had many studies published showing the benefits for joint health – this could be a vital addition if you have arthritis and you wish to preserve the joint health. This supplement aims to reduce inflammation in the joint and improve the lubrication of the joint.
Turmeric – Natural supplements can help to reduce your inflammation levels and it has been shown that turmeric in high doses can have extremely positive effects. Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric that has been found in many studies to have positive anti-inflammatory effects on the body and also to promote circulation to vital structures which is essential to easing joint pain.
Ginger – another natural product which has anti-inflammatory products. Supplements are available or add fresh ginger to your cooking or smoothies.
Collagen Supplements – Collagen is rich in the amino acids which help to build joint cartilage. It may have some anti-inflammatory properties and it has been trialled for the management of osteoarthritis. Collagen supplements come in many shapes and forms such as protein powders, coffee products and oral tablets – as a side note, they are made from animal products – typically fish-based.
Vitamin D – although named a vitamin – it is a pro steroid hormone which is key for maintaining musculoskeletal health – especially healthy joints. Humans are capable of making it themselves when exposed to sunlight, however with modern lifestyles taking us indoors more than ever you may want to consider supplementing with vitamin D3, a year’s supply is extremely affordable.
If you are considering using any supplement, make sure you check all labelling and if you have any other health conditions or take prescription medication to ensure you check with your doctor that it is safe to do so.
Here are some helpful exercises for the full body which can help to manage joint pain.
Movement of your joints as mentioned is one of the most important things to do to help keep joints mobile and lubricated.
Strength is also another factor which is key to help maintain healthy joints and support them properly. If we aren’t strong enough then the joint itself takes more load than necessary which can cause pan.
Movement of the joint to lubricate and strengthen it will help protect it further. Consider the use of a joint support if you have higher levels of pain – this can help to improve the support of the joint.
Active shoulder circles
Standing or sitting, start with your arms down by your sides, start to make circles in a vertical line with your arms. You can change the speed and direction of the arm circles. This helps to gain full movement of the shoulder joint in all directions and uses the muscles and tendons which support the shoulder joint.
Active hip circles
Standing on the bottom stair at home, dangle your leg over the edge of the step and gently start to swing your leg from the hip into small circles, change direction and speed. You can do this from the floor also by standing and lifting the hip into flexion and then taking it into external rotation and abduction and then repeating the move in reverse. Again, making the full amount of movement available to the hip will help it to remain healthy.
The ultimate bodyweight exercise. Squatting is essentially the movement of going from standing to sitting and repeating. It is an extremely functional movement for our day to day lives but also it makes our joints healthy in the hips and knees. A squat is a quad-dominant exercise but it has the involvement of the glutes and hamstring muscles. Strengthening the knees and hip areas helps to support these joints which can be susceptible to arthritis as we age.
Use tins of food, dumbbells, barbells or anything you can push above your head. This compound movement helps to strengthen the shoulder joints and gives protection to all of the joints in the upper back and leading into the neck. Adding muscle and strength to the shoulder and upper body will give protection to joints and make you more functionally strong.
Elastic band exercises
Banded exercises are now all the rage. Use of elastic at home and in the gym has come to the forefront of exercise. For the upper limb – banded shoulder rotations and stretching exercises have been shown to strengthen the muscles and tendons of the shoulder to promote healthier joints. Glute band exercises for the hips keep the hip tendon strong which support the joint.
We hope this guide to joint pain has been helpful and it has provided you with information about your body and what you can do to help manage any joint pain you may be having.