With Andrew Watson of Goodmeasure Pharmacy, Rotherham
The older we get, the more we notice that our bodies creak like old wooden floorboards.
It’s common to have aches and pains in your joints from time to time. But if your pain or discomfort doesn’t go away in a few days, it could be more than just ageing.
Ongoing joint pain can make life feel harder as movement becomes limited. Simple things like walking the dog, gardening or housework, doing the food shop, or even just getting out of bed in a morning can feel laboured.
Joint pain can happen throughout the body, affecting your knee, hip, shoulder, foot, hand, elbow, or neck. There are different reasons why you might be experiencing joint pain.
If you’re over 45, pain gets worse when walking, or your body feels stiff after movement, you may have osteoarthritis. This degenerative joint disease is the most common form of arthritis. Cartilage around the joints breaks down and bony growths develop, which is what causes the pain. It usually affects the knees, hips or hands.
Sometimes pain can vary from mild to severely debilitating. Risk increases with age, family history, and obesity. You’re also at an increased risk if you’ve had a previous joint injury. Women are more likely to develop osteoarthritis than men.
This is an autoimmune disorder that attacks the cells that line the joints. Symptoms are usually pain or stiffness in both sides of the body that gets worse after not moving. It can affect any age, but is usually more common in women or people who have a family history of RA.
There is no cure, and RA can cause flare ups where pain is worse. Medicines to slow down the disease are often offered, along with physiotherapy and occupational therapy. As the disease progresses, surgery may be needed such as carpel tunnel or joint replacement surgery.
A common, painful form of arthritis that comes on suddenly. A chemical called uric acid builds up in the blood then leaks into the joints and crystalises, causing pain, swelling and redness.
Usually found in the big toe, but can also be in the hand, wrist or knee. It’s treated with a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen but may need steroids. People with gout should avoid alcohol, red meat and shellfish in their diets as these can make it worse.
Joints are hot, swollen, and hurt when you press or move them. The bursa, fluid-filled sacs that cushion joints, become inflamed. Usually affects shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees, and ankles. Can be caused by injury, overuse, or infection. Rest and ice are recommended to reduce swelling, but antibiotics may be needed if infection is present.
Another autoimmune disorder that can attack joints. Along with swollen, painful joints, you may develop a butterfly-shaped rash across your cheeks, hair loss, trouble breathing, memory problems, mouth sores, and dry eyes and mouth.
Sprains or strains
Usually presents as pain, swelling or bruising around the joint, affecting ligaments and muscles. Can be caused by repetitive exercise or moving incorrectly; it feels like you’ve pulled or popped something. Pain usually comes on suddenly or the day after the injury. Use the RICE method to treat: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevate.
How to treat joint pain
In most cases, the best prescription for joint pain is exercise. Limiting or reducing movement can weaken muscles around the joints which can make it worse.
Strength or resistance training is recommended, rather than anything high impact. Try yoga, swimming, walking or cycling. Exercise can also reduce stiffness, aid your mobility, and keep you at a healthy weight so you’re not adding extra stress to weak joints.
For pain or stiffness, some people find heat helpful, such as a warm bath, hot water bottle or wheat bag. If there is swelling, always use a cold compress rather than heat.
Painkillers such as paracetamol can relieve pain, as can topical NSAIDs like ibuprofen gel. For severe cases, you may be offered steroid injections to reduce inflammation. These can be given every three months with a maximum of four a year in the same area.
Some people swear by supplements for joint pain, but there is no medical evidence of their benefit. Glucosamine and chondroitin are natural components of cartilage. Omega 3s and turmeric are said to be anti-inflammatory. And calcium and vitamin D are good for bone health. Always consult with your GP or pharmacist before taking any supplements as they may interfere with any medication you’re taking.