From gout to rheumatoid arthritis, consider this your crash course

Whether it’s causing swelling, stiffness or weakness, joint pain can get in the way of day-to-day life. But with the right treatment and some simple lifestyle tweaks, you can help manage your symptoms and live life to the fullest. Mount Everest, anyone?

Here are five of the most common causes of joint pain.

Knee pain

Whether it's a dull ache or sharp twinge, most of us have experienced knee pain at some stage. In fact, the knee joint is thought to be the most frequently damaged joint as it takes the full weight of your body.

As you get older, knee discomfort may become more and more common. You’re also more at risk of experiencing knee pain if you’re overweight.

Knee pain isn’t always a joint problem, though. Nope! From strains and sprains through to tendonitis and Osgood-Schlatter's disease, knee discomfort can be a symptom of many different conditions.  

Knee pain tends to improve using a couple of simple measures (we’re talking rest, avoiding standing as much as possible to keep weight off the joint, taking suitable pain relief, using an ice pack, or wearing suitable footwear). If you’re worried about the pain, or the pain is severe or not improving, see your GP or call 111.

Inflammation of the joint lining

Injured a joint recently? If it suddenly becomes painful again, the thin layer of tissue that lines your joints and tendons could be inflamed. This is a condition called traumatic synovitis.

This doesn’t usually cause any redness or heat, and you should be able to manage it at home with rest, an ice pack, and anti-inflammatory medicines, like ibuprofen (if suitable). As before, if you’re worried then your GP can help.

Gout or pseudogout

If the skin over your joint is hot and red, and the pain comes in repeated attacks, you could be dealing with gout or pseudogout (these are both types of arthritis).

While gout usually affects the joint of the big toe first (before affecting other joints), pseudogout usually affects the knee joint first.

Making simple lifestyle changes could help you reduce further bouts. For example, exercising regularly, eating a healthy, balanced diet, reducing alcohol intake and stopping smoking.

See your GP if you think you have gout or pseudogout – it's really important to correctly diagnose these conditions, as treatment can help prevent future spells of pain.

Bleeding into the joint space

If you’ve recently injured a joint (maybe you tore a ligament or experienced a fracture), it could cause bleeding into the joint spaces. This is known as haemarthrosis and is more likely to happen if you take anticoagulants (they’re medicines that help prevent blood clots, by the way).

Signs of haemarthrosis include swelling and warmth, as well as stiffness and bruising (which happen soon after the injury). Go to A&E immediately in you have extreme swelling following an injury.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Most of us have heard of rheumatoid arthritis, but what exactly is it?

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, which means that your immune system mistakenly attacks the cells that line your joints. 

Typically affecting the hands, feet and wrists, it’s a long-term condition that causes pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints. In the early stages, the pain tends to come and go with long lulls between flare ups.

If you think you have rheumatoid arthritis, see your GP. Diagnosing it quickly is important, because early treatment and support – like medicine, lifestyle changes, supportive treatments and surgery – could reduce the risk of joint damage.

Cartilage damage

Knee hurting while you’re walking up the stairs? Or while you’re squatting at the gym? It could be a sign of a damaged knee cap – a condition called chondromalacia patellae.

This doesn’t tend to cause any redness or heat around the knee, and it can be treated at home with an ice pack, anti-inflammatory medicines, like ibuprofen (if suitable), and plenty of rest. Netflix at the ready!  

Although the cause of chondromalacia patellae is not yet known, it could be linked to overuse of the knee.

Whether your joint pain is mild, severe or somewhere in-between, remember that the information and advice on this page shouldn’t be used to self-diagnose your condition. Always see your GP if you’re worried.