What Causes Joint Pain: From Arthritis to Lupus to Tennis Elbow

Last update in December, 2022

What causes joint pain? Joint pain refers to any kind of discomfort that occurs where two bones or more come together. This relatively innocuous term can describe anything from minor soreness associated with too much typing to the excruciating pain and inflammation that comes with some forms of cancer and immune disorders. While joint pain usually isn’t an emergency, being able to identify its source can help you determine whether your discomfort is a sign of something more serious.

Repetitive Stress Injuries
As more of the population enters jobs that require the same motions over and over again, the incidence of repetitive stress injuries increases. These injuries include carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis and a wide variety of other damage to the joints and the tissues around them. If left alone in their early stages, the majority will heal on their own or through the use of anti-inflammatory supplements and drugs. Longer-term injuries may eventually require surgery or other more serious intervention, however.

Osteoarthritis
This condition is usually associated with old age, but can happen at any time in your life. It’s caused by repeated wear on the cartilage in your joint, which forces the surface of the bones to come into contact. This can be very painful and causes significant inflammation. Taking natural or over the counter anti-inflammatory treatments like NSAIDS or green-lipped mussel powder and fish oil can help you deal with this condition, but the problem is not usually reversible.

Autoimmune Disorders
Several disorders of the immune system cause the body’s natural defenses to attack its own tissues. These include lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia and sarcoidosis. There is currently no cure for any of these autoimmune causes of joint pain, but doctors can use anti-inflammatory treatments combined with immunosuppressants to decrease the pain and damage done to the joint.

Cancer
While joint pain from cancer isn’t very common, it can be a very serious sign. The two cancers that are most likely to cause joint pain are cancer of the bones and metastatic cancers that have spread to the bone. Both damage the bone and create swelling and tenderness accompanied by fatigue. They can also cause bones to break much more easily. Treatment requires surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and symptom-based care from an oncological specialist.

When to See a Doctor
If you’re wondering what causes joint pain, you should be aware that not all pain indicates a serious problem. In fact, many cases will simply heal on their own if you allow the joint to rest. In slightly more serious cases, you may need to use over the counter medication or herbal remedies to alleviate the discomfort. If you experience bleeding, deformity or sudden swelling in the joint, very intense pain, or difficulty actually using the joint, however, it may be time to see the doctor. These signs could indicate that something much more serious than a minor injury has occurred.