If you suffer from joint pain, you’re not alone and there are many reasons why one or more of your joints might be achy.
Joint pain is defined as experiencing discomfort around one or more of your joints. While general pain is a common signal, you may also have swelling, warmth, tenderness, redness, and pain with movement around the area.
When the cause of your discomfort is obvious, there’s usually no reason to panic, though you should still see a doctor if it doesn’t go away. But what if your joints hurt and you have no idea why? Or you also have other weird symptoms you can’t explain?
In rare instances, your joint pain might be a signal that something pretty serious is going on, such as a sexually transmitted disease or an autoimmune disorder. But in many cases, it’s likely your joints are hurting due to a more common issue. Here’s a look at some of the conditions that could be making you sore, ranging from the more common to rare.
1. You’re simply getting older.
Your joints have been supporting you your entire life, and that can be hard on them over time—especially when it comes to weight-bearing joints like your knees and hips. This is so because the Cartilage, a gel-like substance that helps cushion your joints, also wears down with time.
2. An older injury is stirring up problems again.
Having an injury earlier in your life, whether it was treated or untreated, can increase your risk of having joint pain later.
There are a few different ways this can happen, but problems like a ligament tear, tendon issues, or a bone fracture can lead to inflammation over time. And even though a doctor can help you manage symptoms, they can’t go back in time and erase the injury. So, if you had a ligament tear in your knee in your 20s, for example, it sets you up for arthritis 10, 20, or 30 years later.
3. A thyroid issue could be the underlying problem.
Your thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland in the front of your neck, and it makes hormones that control the way your body uses energy. Those hormones impact many different functions in your body, and it allows your joints and muscles to be lubricated and stay healthy.
If you have hypothyroidism, your thyroid gland doesn’t make enough of the thyroid hormones that your body needs. That can adversely affect your joints and make you vulnerable to joint discomfort or injury.
4. It could be a sign of rheumatoid arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is different than the wear-and-tear kind (osteoarthritis) that commonly develops with age.
RA is an autoimmune disorder, and it disproportionally targets women. Tender, swollen joints and feeling stiff in the morning are classic RA symptoms. You might also have fatigue, fever, or weight loss you can’t explain.
Although not all these causes of joint pain can be cured, they can be treated. Some will require a course of antibiotics or other prescription meds. Others may improve on their own with time and rest. But any lingering pain in your joints should be reason enough to check in with your primary care doctor.
5. Or, it could be infectious (septic) arthritis.
If you get a cut or puncture wound and don’t clean it well with soap and water, a nearby joint can get infected with common bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus or Streptococcus. You’ll notice intense swelling and pain in the area, and fever and chills could follow.
Knees are the most commonly affected joint, but hips, ankles, and wrists are also likely targets. You might need IV antibiotics, and your doctor might need to drain fluid from the infected joint. Left untreated, septic arthritis can lead to full-body sepsis, which can be fatal.
6. It could be a symptom of lupus.
Lupus is an autoimmune disorder that can wreck all your joints if left untreated. People with lupus have an overactive immune system that can mistakenly target joints, as well as skin, blood, kidneys, and other organs.
Along with swollen, painful joints, you may develop a butterfly-shaped rash across your cheeks, but symptoms are different for everyone. Hair loss, trouble breathing, memory problems, mouth sores, and dry eyes and mouth can also be signs of lupus.
7. Gonorrhea could be to blame.
This sexually transmitted disease (STD) doesn’t just affect your genitals; it can also wreak havoc on your joints, as it causes a painful condition called gonococcal arthritis. It affects women more than men and, surprisingly, is most common among sexually active teen girls.
If you have it, you may develop one hot, red, swollen joint (though some people end up with several painful large joints), along with other STD symptoms.