Joint pain

Alternative names
Stiffness in a joint; Pain - joints; Arthralgia

Joint pain can affect one or more joints. See also arthritis (inflammation of joints), muscle pain, and bursitis.


Joint pain can be caused by many types of injuries or conditions. No matter what causes it, joint pain can be very bothersome.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that causes stiffness and pain in the joints. Osteoarthritis involves growth of bone spurs and degeneration of cartilage at a joint. It is very common in adults older than 45 and can cause joint pain.

Joint pain may also be caused by bursitis (inflammation of the bursae). The bursae are fluid-filled sacs that cushion and pad bony prominences, allowing muscles and tendons to move freely over the bone.

Common Causes

Home Care

Follow prescribed therapy in treating the underlying cause.

For nonarthritis joint pain, both rest and exercise are important. Warm baths, massage, and stretching exercises should be used as frequently as possible.

Anti-inflammatory medications may help relieve pain and swelling. Consult your health care provider before giving aspirin or NSAIDs such as ibruprofen to children.

Call your health care provider if

  • Fever is not associated with flu symptoms  
  • You have involuntary weight loss of 10 pounds or more  
  • The joint pain persists beyond 3 days  
  • You have severe, unexplained joint pain especially if accompanied by other unexplained symptoms

What to expect at your health care provider’s office
Your health care provider will perform a physical examination. The following questions may help your provider identify the cause of your joint pain:

  • Which joint hurts? Is the pain on one side or both sides?  
  • How long have you been having this pain? Have you had it before?  
  • Did this pain begin suddenly and severely - or slowly and mildly?  
  • Is the pain constant or does it come and go? Has the pain become more severe?  
  • What started your pain - have you injured your joint?  
  • Have you had an illness or fever?  
  • Does resting the joint reduce the pain or make it worse?  
  • Does moving the joint reduce the pain or make it worse?  
  • Are certain positions comfortable? Does keeping the joint elevated help?  
  • Do medications, massage, or applying heat reduce the pain?  
  • What other symptoms do you have?  
  • Is there any numbness?  
  • Can you bend and straighten the joint? Does the joint feel stiff?

Diagnostic tests that may be performed include the following:

  • Blood studies - CBC or blood differential  
  • Joint x-ray

Physical therapy for muscle and joint rehabilitation may be recommended.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 4, 2012
by Harutyun Medina, M.D.

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All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.