If you’re experiencing joint pain in your knees, shoulders, hips or other areas, you’re not alone. Joint pain is common as we age. In fact, it affects roughly one-third of U.S. adults.
Joint pain can be caused by a number of factors, including:
- Certain autoimmune diseases
- Injuries, such as a fracture, sprain or strain
- Viral infections
- Lyme disease
Arthritis and joint pain are often confused, and it can be challenging to know when joint pain has progressed into arthritis or when it should be cause for concern. Here, we’ll dive into the link between arthritis and joint pain, offer solutions to help relieve your pain, and discuss when it might be time to see a joint replacement specialist.
What is Arthritis?
Before making the connection between arthritis and joint pain, it’s important to understand exactly what arthritis is and isn’t.
Many people are surprised to learn that arthritis isn’t an actual disease or diagnosis. Instead, arthritis simply refers to the tenderness or swelling of the joints.
Joints are connections between two or more bones that allow the bones to move in different directions. Arthritis often causes inflammation or a breakdown of your joints, which can lead to pain, stiffness and a limited range of motion. It can also cause permanent damage to your joints.
According to arthritis information published by the Arthritis Foundation, there are more than 100 types of arthritis and related conditions. In the U.S., nearly a quarter of all adults have some form of arthritis, making it the leading cause of work disability.
Is Joint Pain Arthritis?
Chronic joint pain can be a sign of arthritis, but arthritis and joint pain are not the same thing. Arthritis can cause a variety of symptoms beyond joint pain, including:
- Restricted movement
- Warm skin around the affected joint
- Fatigue and weakness
Unlike joint pain, which is related to specific joints, the effects of arthritis can spread throughout the body.
When you first start experiencing joint pain, you might notice the following sensations at your joint:
- Sharp, sudden pain
Regardless of its cause, joint pain can become severe enough that it interferes with daily life and mobility. Simple, everyday tasks such as gardening, walking up steps, sitting in chairs and even getting out of bed can become a challenge.
When joint pain progresses into arthritis, it can also affect other areas of your health and well-being. Being limited physically can lead to a sense of helplessness or depression that can impact your relationships, social life, finances, work and more.
While joint pain can be short-lived, an arthritis flare-up can last for weeks or months, unless there is a change to your treatment.
Relieving Your Symptoms
While arthritis doesn’t have a cure, there is good news. Arthritis and joint pain can both be treated and managed to significantly improve your symptoms and quality of life.
For acute joint pain, home remedies like ice packs, heating pads, stretching and over-the-counter pain medications may help ease your symptoms. These treatments are best for short-term pain caused by an injury.
For arthritis and chronic joint pain, there are a number of effective treatments available, including:
- Physical therapy
- Specific exercises
- Anti-inflammatory diets
- Joint injections
- Support groups
- Joint replacement surgery
Exercises to Alleviate Arthritis and Joint Pain
One easy way to relieve symptoms at home is through regular physical activities that can help reduce pain and strengthen your joints.
While the best exercises for your condition will vary based on which joints are causing you pain, a general rule of thumb is to aim for low-impact activities that put minimal stress on your body.
Examples of low-impact exercises include:
- Tai chi
- Slow-pace dancing
- Light gardening
Always remember to allow 5-10 minutes at the beginning and end of each activity for a proper warm up and cool down. If your pain worsens, stop the activity.
You should always consult your doctor before beginning a new exercise routine.
Stretches to Reduce Arthritis and Joint Pain
Stretching is also a great way to stay active and reduce joint pain. Here are a few stretches you can try today.
- Shoulder stretches: In a standing or sitting position, bring your forearms together in front of you with your arms bent at the elbow and your palms together. Keeping your arms bent, slowly pull your elbows back until your arms are in line with the side of your body and your palms are facing forward. Next, raise your arms as high as you can overhead. Hold for a few seconds and repeat.
- Knee raises: Sit on the edge of a chair or other flat surface with your back straight. Lift your knee as high as you can by pulling your leg toward you. Don’t bend your back. Hold for a few seconds, and then bring it back down to its original position. Alternate legs. If you feel up to it, try lifting your knees without the help of your hands.
- Hip stretch: Lying flat on a bed, bend your knee towards your chest. Use your hands to pull it closer until you feel a gentle stretch. Hold for 3 seconds, then return your leg flat. Repeat with your other leg.
Your ideal stretching exercises might change if you have joint replacement surgery. See our guide to post-surgery knee replacement exercises.
When Is Joint Replacement Surgery Needed?
We typically recommend exhausting all noninvasive treatment options before opting for surgery. If you have joint damage or continue to experience pain following non-surgical treatments, your doctor may recommend orthopedic surgery. Check out our blog for signs that you may need to see an orthopedic surgeon.
If surgery is needed for arthritis and joint pain, an experienced specialist will:
- Schedule you for an initial consultation
- Explain your treatment options
- Provide information on alternative methods to help ease your symptoms
- Admit you into surgery when necessary
Early Prevention Steps to Take Now
If you are in the early stages of experiencing joint pain, there are some things you can do now to help prevent or slow the onset of arthritis.
- Maintain a healthy weight: Extra weight can put added pressure on your joints, especially joints that bear weight, like your knees and hips. According to the CDC, losing as little as 10-12 pounds when you’re overweight can help alleviate arthritis and joint pain symptoms.
- Eat foods that reduce inflammation: Certain foods can help reduce inflammation around your joints, which can decrease your pain. Add foods that are high in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids to your diet, and avoid foods associated with joint pain, such as those with processed sugars, excessive salt and processed meats.
- Stay active: Regular physical activity can help ease joint pain and stiffness. It can also help boost your mood and give you additional energy. Talk to your doctor about what level of activity may be healthiest for you.
Arthritis and joint pain can be debilitating and impact every aspect of daily life. Luckily, you don’t have to manage it alone. Our providers at the Joint Replacement Center of Scottsdale are here to help.
Request an appointment now to schedule a consultation and get your questions answered.