Atrium Health Navicent Primary Care Internal and Family Medicine North Macon

Management of Joint Pain

Man rubbing his injured shoulder

It is estimated, that one in five American adults are suffering from joint pain each day. The symptoms include general pain in a certain joint region, stiffness, and swelling. Joint pain does not just affect those over the age of 65. In fact, two-thirds of people who report joint pain are under the age of 60. In general, women suffer from joint pain more frequently than men do.

Managing joint pain involves a number of different methods. The key is to find the ones that work best for a given patient and establish a routine to lessen the pain as much as possible.

Joints connect the skeletal structure, provide support, and help the body to move. When joints are damaged or degraded due to an injury or medical condition, it can severely affect the quality of life in an individual.

There are many causes of joint-related pain. Arthritis, gout, and physical injuries are the most common causes. A recent survey suggests that 33% of adults on average have indicated that they suffer from joint pain in the last month.

The most common areas that people experience pain are in the knees, the shoulders, and the hips. Sometimes the pain occurs in ankles and feet.

Joint pain is sometimes merely an inconvenience, and other times it severely affects an individual's basic ability to perform simple daily tasks. Joint pain can be a re-occurring phenomenon. It might go away for a month and then return. Acute pain is joint pain that lasts for a few days or weeks. Chronic pain lasts for months.

Managing joint pain at home requires the patient to maintain a regimen of simple daily techniques. The joint should either be wrapped in gauze with an elastic wrap compress applied. Some patients prefer to wear a brace to aid in restricting movement. It is important to remember that a brace or splint is helpful, but if the joint is immobile for too long it can stiffen and actually lose function.

The joint need to be rested and activities that might worsen the pain should be avoided. An ice pack should be applied to the joint at 15-minute intervals at least three times per day. The joint should generally be elevated higher than the patient's heart. Some recommend a bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in cloth. Never apply the ice directly to the skin. Heating pads and wraps are useful for reducing muscle spasms.

Exercise can help if the patient is overweight, as added mass puts pressure on the joints. Each pound lost removes about four pounds of pressure to the knee joints. It is important for the patient to go with low impact exercises to avoid exacerbating their condition.

Doctors say that swimming is an excellent weight loss method, as it is a way to exercise without putting any pressure on the joints. Bicycling is another optimal choice.

Patients are advised not to stretch before undertaking an exercise routine. Instead, warm up with a 10-minute walk to loosen up the tendons and ligaments. If a patient feels pain for two days or more after an exercise session, the joints are being taxed too greatly. Working through the pain can lead to more joint damage or an injury of a different kind.

Eating can actually alleviate joint pain. It is not a cure, but various nutrients build muscle and bone strength. Foods high in vitamins C, K, and D are particularly effective.

Doctors aim to treat the condition by reducing inflammation while preserving the joint's ability to function.

For mild and moderate joint pain, often doctors will recommend an anti-inflammatory such as aspirin or ibuprofen. Some of these can cause gastrointestinal bleeding in rare cases, so a doctor should be consulted. Those who drink alcohol regularly should be aware that the combination of the medication could damage the liver.

Severe joint pain is treated with opioid drugs. This medication causes drowsiness and needs to be used carefully. Opioids can also cause constipation. Sometimes doctors prescribe muscle relaxants or antiepileptic drugs to alleviate the pain as an alternative.

Capsaicin cream is a common cure for joint pain. It blocks the transmission of pain signals and releases endorphins. Capsaicin can sting and cause a burning sensation when it is applied, so caution is advised.

If capsaicin is not an option, methyl salicylate is a very reliable source for joint pain relief.

If ointments and pills do not work, injections are the next step. A physician can inject a steroid solution or hyaluronic combined with an anesthetic, into the joint up to four times per year. Injections are very effective and are often used by individuals with arthritis or tendinitis.

The effects of an injection fade over time. Sometimes there are side effects and can cause more joint damage. Doctors sometimes do an injection to remove fluid from the problem area prior to a steroid injection.

Physical therapy is often recommended as a long-term solution to joint pain. The patient works with the physical therapist to build muscle around the problem area and to expand the range of motion. Often an ultrasound or electrical nerve stimulation is part of the process.

A few alternative treatments have shown to be beneficial. Research has proven that glucosamine supplements improve joint function and reduce pain. Glucosamine is a component of cartilage and cushions the skeletal structure. It is available in pill and liquid form.

Glucosamine does not work for some patients but there are no ill side effects, which can make it safer to try.

It is extremely important to remember that if the joint pain gets worse or if the joint starts to look swollen or deformed, seek medical help immediately. Always check with a physician before beginning to treat joint pain.