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Experiencing Joint Pain? Learn These 5 Common Causes

If you’ve ever experienced joint pain, you’re not alone. It’s a common complaint that affects millions of people. Yet, joint pain is not the same in everyone. Likewise, the reasons behind it are not the same either. Painful joints can be caused by a multitude of factors.

According to Dr. Craig Israelite, orthopaedic surgeon, Co-Director of Knee Service and Assistant Professor of Clinical Orthopaedic Surgery at Penn Medicine, “The most common causes of joint pain are muscle or ligament pain, cartilage injury or arthritis, which simply refers to the loss of cartilage covering or protecting the underlying bone.”

On January 8, 2014, Israelite operated on Marilyn Palley, a 61-year-old who discovered her love of dancing only three years earlier. Unfortunately, she developed severe arthritis in her hips and continued to dance competitively for over a year while enduring the pain.

Palley sought Penn Medicine’s Musculoskeletal Center to diagnose and alleviate her joint pain. She underwent a bilateral hip replacement with Dr. Israelite; feeling pain-free the next day, she returned to dance class within two weeks and, within three months, began dancing competitively again.

Read on for five common reasons for joint pain—and find out what may be causing yours.

1. Inflammatory arthritis

Arthritis is the most common cause of joint pain, with inflammatory types typically being the culprit. “Osteoarthritis is by far the most common cause of arthritis, and is usually the result of a mechanical injury from trauma or the result of repetitive stress. Rheumatoid arthritis is the result of the body attacking its own cartilage and is less common,” Israelite said.

Anyone who experiences pain in the feet may be suffering from gout, another form of arthritis in which raised levels of uric acid in the blood crystallize into the joints, causing redness and pain.

2. Sprains, strains and sports injuries 

Many times an injury can cause painful joints. “The most common types of injuries involve the loss of the cartilage covering the bone ends, known as articular cartilage, and also damage to the fibrocartilage in the joint,” Israelite said. “Other common types are tendon injuries, ligament injuries, muscle pain or referred pain, which is pain from another distant area that seems to be coming from the joint itself.”

3. Autoimmune disorders 

Certain autoimmune diseases—such as lupus and psoriasis—can affect the joints. Lupus can affect many parts of the body, including the kidneys, heart and lungs, whereas psoriasis is a skin condition distinguished by red, scaly, itchy patches.

4. Infectious diseases 

Like autoimmune diseases, infectious diseases can also cause painful joints. Also known as infectious arthritis, infectious diseases can range from a common viral infection or the Flu to more serious diseases, such as Lyme disease.

5. Joint or bone infections 

A joint infection, also known as septic arthritis, is usually caused by bacteria spreading from the blood to a joint, typically following surgery or an injury. Pain comes on suddenly, usually in the knees and hips.

Bones can also become infected, resulting in painful joints. Also known as osteomyelitis, bone infections are usually caused by bacteria or fungi that spread from bones through infected skin, muscles or tendons.

Penn Medicine’s brand-new, state-of-the-art Musculoskeletal Center—which conveniently brings together multiple medical specialties—is a team of doctors, nurses and physical therapists who take a whole-body approach to diagnosing and treating joints, muscles, and bones. Seek medical care at Penn’s Musculoskeletal Center for advanced treatment in orthopaedics, physical medicine and rehabilitation, pain medicine and rheumatology. Visit www.PennMedicine.org/MSK, or call 215-615-2576.