When to See a Doctor
Joint pain is a fact of life, and if everyone went to their doctor every time they felt discomfort the medical profession would be overwhelmed. But it is important to see a doctor before you leap to any conclusions, and certainly before you attempt any form of self-medication. So make an appointment if any of these apply:
· Your pain is affecting your quality of life.
· Your pain is consistent over a long period and getting worse—it will inevitably change day by day, but if it is there week by week you need a check-up.
· You have other symptoms in the affected joint or in your health generally.
· Your pain is sudden and acute.
How a Joint Works
Joints are made up of a number of tissues:
· Cartilage is a very strong slippery substance which covers the ends of the bones as they move against each other.
· A capsule surrounds the whole joint and bathes it in synovial fluid, a thick liquid which lubricates and nourishes the cartilage.
· Ligaments hold the joint together and prevent it moving too far.
· Bursae are small lubricated cushions between the joint and other tissues.
· Tendons attach muscles to the bones.
Any of these tissues can be the source of the pain, and damage can be caused by trauma, infection, or just wear and tear. Your doctor will consider them all, as well as other possible conditions which may not be caused from within the joint.
The most common cause of persistent joint pain is arthritis, caused by the deterioration of the cartilage which allows the bone surfaces to come into contact as you move.
Osteoarthritis is a very widely experienced condition. It can occur at any age but gets more prevalent as people get older. The cartilage develops a tendency to inflammation, and repeated inflammation causes it to break down over a prolonged period. It is normally treated with anti-inflammatory drugs, exercise, and dietary approaches, although there are many popular alternative remedies such as acupuncture.
In many cases, the best long-term solution is a replacement joint. Knee and hip surgery are among the most common procedures (and the most effective) for older citizens.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic autoimmune condition which affects many joints, especially the smaller joints of the hands and feet. It can be a life-changing condition which requires ongoing specialist medical intervention.
There are many other less common types of arthritis.
Pain in a joint is not necessarily a sign of a problem with the joint itself. Many conditions will include joint pain among their symptoms, including influenza, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, hepatitis, and many others. Joint pain will be just one symptom in the diagnosis.
Remember also that nerves are tricky things. The fact that you feel pain in one joint does not necessarily mean that the real problem is there. Many physical therapists experience patients who arrive with a knee pain, only to find on examination that the damage is in the hip.
Very extreme pain in a joint may well be caused by an injury, like a fracture or a dislocation. A torn ligament will be very painful and will allow the joint to move beyond its proper range, risking further damage.
Cancer of the bone or other tissues is not a common cause of joint pain but is obviously something that patient and doctor will want to rule out as quickly as possible, as speed of treatment by a specialist orthopedic oncologist is essential.
A Good Prospect
Former generations accepted joint problems as part of the price of living to a good old age, and many a grandparent has taken to a chair for the rest of their life. However, modern medicine has changed that outlook completely and most joint pain is now treatable by surgery, medication, or lifestyle changes. The day is well past when they need to be accepted as a restriction on a full and active life.
Logan Williamson is a retired GP who likes to share his knowledge and feel useful in his old age! He writes articles which appear on health, fitness and lifestyle blogs discussing a range of health related topics.
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