Joint pain causes are many, and treatments vary depending on the cause. For a lot of people, it’s due to some kind of arthritis (joint inflammation). For others, such as those with fibromyalgia or an underactive thyroid, pain occurs with no underlying damage or inflammation.
Joint pain may range from a mild ache to a severe, burning, or sharp sensation in one or several joints. In some instances, joint pain is associated with other symptoms, like joint swelling and stiffness, red and warm skin, and whole-body symptoms like fatigue, weight loss, or fever.
In cases of arthritis-related joint pain, inflammation and/or damage within the joint space is responsible for the pain. Several types of arthritis exist and their causes differ.
Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis.1 OA develops as a result of the breakdown of cartilage (which serves as a cushion between the bones of a joint) often due to aging. This type of arthritis tends to affect the knees, hips, neck, lower back, and fingers.
The pain of OA—which often progresses from a sharp, intermittent pain to a constant aching—worsens with movement and eases with rest.2 Joint stiffness and a restricted range of motion are also characteristic of OA joint pain.
While classic OA is actually a non-inflammatory arthritis, an aggressive subtype of OA, called erosive osteoarthritis, is inflammatory. Erosive OA is most common in postmenopausal women and causes a gradual onset of joint aches, stiffness, and swelling in multiple finger joints.3Common Osteoarthritis Symptoms
Gout is a type of inflammatory arthritis that occurs in some people with high levels of uric acid in their blood. As the uric acid builds up, it may form crystals in certain joint spaces, like the big toe, ankle, or knee.
A classic gout attack refers to a sudden episode of severe, often burning joint pain that usually occurs in one joint (for example, the big toe). The joint pain of a gout attack is often extreme and associated with redness, swelling, and warmth of the joint. Without treatment, an acute flare can take anywhere from three days to two weeks to resolve on its own.4
The “why” behind gout joint pain is attributed to the rapid, inflammatory response of the body’s immune system as it tries to digest the unwanted and foreign crystals.Symptoms of Gout
Pseudogout, also known as calcium pyrophosphate deposition disease (CPPD), is a type of inflammatory arthritis that occurs as a result of calcium crystal buildup in certain joints, most commonly the knee, wrists, shoulders, ankles, feet, and elbows.
Like gout, the pain of an acute pseudogout joint attack is sudden, severe, and associated with other symptoms like joint swelling and warmth. Unlike gout, the attacks of pseudogout may last longer before remitting.5Gout vs. Pseudogout
With septic arthritis, a joint becomes infected, most commonly with a bacteria and rarely with a fungus (for example, Candida) or mycobacteria (such as tuberculosis).
Septic arthritis tends to affect a single joint, usually the knee, ankle, wrist, or hip. The affected joint is swollen, warm, and stiff, and a fever is also present.
In most cases, septic arthritis is caused by a bacterial infection in the blood that then travels to the joint space.6 Less commonly, joint surgery or trauma (for example, a tick bite) may be the culprit.
Several different viruses may cause arthritis. The most common ones include hepatitis B and C, parvovirus B19, and HIV, as well as alphaviruses (transmitted by mosquitoes) like the Chikungunya virus (CHIKV).7
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease that develops gradually over a period of weeks to months. While the disease predominantly affects the joints, early symptoms may not involve them, but instead include: