What Causes Joint Pain? 8 Potential Reasons, Plus Solutions for Relief

Jessica Thiefels, The Upside Blog by Vitacost.com

by | Read time: 5 minutes

If you have joint pain, you’re not alone. Musculoskeletal conditions, including joint pain, impact about 1.7 billion sufferers across the globe. It’s one of the most common non-cancer-related ailments.

Joint pain can affect a person at any stage of life, and the symptoms are often debilitating. In some cases, this pain becomes so severe that it will cause mobility and fine-motor skill restrictions, impairing the ability to function.

Woman Stopping Exercise to Hold Knee Representing Concept of What Causes Joint Pain

If you suffer from joint pain, then chances are, you’re all too familiar with the distressing realities of this condition—but healing is possible. Here’s what you need to know to address the source, experience relief and ultimately, return to an active, healthy, vibrant and pain-free quality of life.

Please remember to consult with your physician if the joint pain does not improve with rest and/or continues to worsen or persist. This article is meant to provide education, not medical advice.

What is joint pain, and where does it occur?

You can suffer from joint pain in any area of the body where two bones connect. Some common examples include your wrists, ankles, shoulders, elbows, hips, knees, hands, feet or even the facet joints in your neck and spine. Because joints are made of tissues and cartilage, the pain tends to be musculoskeletal in nature—often, a result of wear and tear. But it could also be symptomatic of an illness, infection, or another medical concern.

Joint pain is characterized by either an acute or chronic level of discomfort. Acute pain occurs due to a specific external injury or collision—it feels sharp at first, then gradually eases as the joint repairs itself.

However, chronic pain lasts longer than a few months and it can interfere with daily activities, mental health outcomes, employment, or social interactions. Chronic joint pain ranges in intensity (from a dull stiffness or tension to a persistent ache or weakness), and it might indicate a more serious underlying problem.

What causes joint pain?

The source of joint pain is inflammation, but the root causes of that inflammation can vary. If a blunt force trauma or another health issue damages a joint, the immune system releases protein molecules and enzymes into the area of impact, according to the Current Osteoporosis Reports Journal.

This creates a painful inflammatory response in the joint tissue. Many conditions can provoke the immune system to inflame a joint tissue. For example, digestive issues can allow for toxins to lead into the joints, which would lead to joint pain. Tendinitis from overuse could cause inflammation around the joint, which would lead to joint pain. Here are a few common reasons for joint pain:


The most prevalent cause of joint pain, arthritis refers to inflammation of the joints. The two primary types of arthritis are osteoarthritis, which occurs due to wear and tear on the joints and rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disorder that affects the lining of the joints.

Injury or trauma

Joint pain can result from injuries such as sprains, strains, fractures, or dislocations. Damage to the ligaments, tendons, or cartilage within a joint can lead to pain and discomfort.


Bursae are small fluid-filled sacs that cushion the joints. When these sacs become inflamed, typically due to repetitive motions or prolonged pressure on the joint, it can result in joint pain.


Tendons are thick cords that connect muscles to bones. Overuse, repetitive motions, or sudden injuries can cause inflammation in the tendons, leading to tendinitis and joint pain.

Infectious diseases

Certain infections, such as Lyme disease, influenza, or viral hepatitis, can cause joint pain as a symptom. The body’s immune response to the infection can lead to joint inflammation.

Autoimmune diseases

Conditions like lupus, psoriatic arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis are autoimmune disorders in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s own tissues, including the joints, resulting in joint pain and inflammation.


Osteoporosis is a condition characterized by the loss of bone density, making the bones weak and prone to fractures. Fractures in the joints can cause significant pain.

Overuse or repetitive stress

Engaging in repetitive activities or overusing certain joints, such as in sports or occupation-related tasks, can strain the joints, leading to pain and inflammation.

Other reasons

Joint pain can also be a side effect of certain medications, hormonal imbalances, metabolic disorders, or systemic illnesses like fibromyalgia. To find out the source of your pain, it’s important to work with a health professional who can properly assess and diagnose your particular symptoms.

How can you find joint pain relief?

If you deal with joint pain, the area will often feel tender, stiff, achy, or swollen to the touch. You might also notice some tension, numbness, limited range of motion and snapping noises or sensations when you attempt to move this joint. In many cases, it could even be too weak to bear weight. To find some relief, try these simple remedies that can be done right at home.

Rest and elevate your impaired joint.

A painful joint needs time to recover without too much pressure or exertion. Rest and elevate the impacted area at regular intervals. According to research in the World Journal of Orthopedics, elevating the joint can promote lymphatic drainage to soothe inflammation.

Perform gentle, low-impact stretches.

It’s not always realistic for a person with chronic musculoskeletal pain to do 150 minutes of intensive exercise each week. In moderation, however, low-impact stretches and gentle aerobic movements can help to build joint strength and flexibility while helping you stay mobile and strong.

 Apply an ice pack to reduce swelling.

Wrap an ice pack in a cloth and secure it tightly around your joint. Research in the Journal of Emergency Nursing found that 20 minutes of cold compression can ease joint discomfort while increasing mobility. That’s because the cold slows circulation to relieve swelling and stiffness.

Eat nutritious, anti-inflammatory food.

Wholesome dietary changes can help to fight inflammation levels, explains Frank Hu, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health. Choose foods like leafy greens, almonds, walnuts, salmon, tuna, berries, tomatoes, citrus fruits and olive oil.

Joint pain is hard, but relief is possible

Pain is the body’s natural defense mechanism to let you know when there’s an issue. If you’re experiencing acute or chronic joint pain, don’t overlook the symptoms or force yourself to push through the discomfort. Listen to the painful cues, try some home remedies, and always seek medical support and guidance if necessary.

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