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​Joint pain – do’s & don’ts

4th October 2018

Many people experience joint pain at some time during their life. There are various possible causes of pain in the joints, but most frequently it occurs as the result of an injury or arthritis.

If your knee, hip or another joint is painful there are certain steps to take to combat it. Whether you have pain in just one joint or whether the problem is more widespread, the first step is to visit your doctor and obtain a diagnosis. Only when you know what the problem is, will you be able to manage your symptoms effectively.

If, like many older people, you have joint pain caused by osteoarthritis there are certain dos and don’ts to consider.

Do exercise

Although it is important not to overdo it, keeping mobile is very important so you should exercise. Ask your GP or physiotherapist for advice on a suitable exercise routine that will keep your joints as mobile and flexible as possible but will not put undue pressure on them. Low-impact activities such as swimming or using an exercise bike can be very helpful if you have pain in knee joints.

Exercise, weight training and stretching can all help to strengthen the supporting muscles around the joint. If stiffness is a problem, you may find that Tai chi will help to ease this. It also helps to improve balance and reduce the risk of falling.

Don’t rest too much

You can afford to take life a little more easily when you have joint pain, but too much rest can actually make the problem worse. If they are not used, the muscles that support the joint can become weaker and this, in turn, will cause further joint pain.

Do take prescribed pain relief

Painkillers can be a great help in coping with joint pain and your doctor will be able to prescribe suitable analgesics, either orally or as a topical application that you rub into the affected area. As long as you do not use painkillers to mask the pain and enable you to carry on with activities that could damage the joint further, there is no reason why you should not be more comfortable on a day to day basis.

Don’t try to work through the pain

Some people advocate pushing through the pain to continue with sports or activities that are important to you, but we have joint pain for a reason. Pain warns you not to over strain the joint and there is nothing to be gained from “feeling the burn”.

Do eat healthily

A balanced and nutritious diet is important for everyone and if you have joint pain you may find that increasing the proportion of fruit and vegetables in your diet and reducing the amount of meat and animal fat you eat will help. Fish and vegetable oil are both recommended for healthy joints too.

Don’t overeat

Cutting down on white carbohydrates, sweets and sugary foods is helpful if you tend to eat too many of these. They have little nutritional value and can cause weight gain if you are not careful.

Do control your weight

If you are overweight, reducing your calorie intake will help you to lose weight. This can be particularly important when you have joint pain because the heavier you are, the more strain you will put on your joints. A healthy, calorie controlled diet is important, particularly if your activity level has decreased due to joint pain. If you are not sure how to go about controlling your weight, your GP should be able to advise you or refer you to a dietitian.

Don’t gain excess weight

If you are unable to exercise because of your joint pain, you may find that your weight gradually creeps up. Weigh yourself regularly so you can be sure that you are not putting on extra weight, and if you are, reduce your calorie intake accordingly.

Do pay attention to your lifestyle

Being health conscious is important for everyone and in addition to maintaining a healthy weight and eating a good diet, you should avoid smoking and drinking too much alcohol.

Do use appropriate aids

If your joint pain means that mobility is a problem for you, use walking aids or trolleys if you need them. A cane can reduce the stress on your knee or hip joint. Extra support in the form of a knee brace may also help keep the joint stable and help with getting around each day.

It is also important to wear appropriate footwear so make sure your shoes fit well and avoid high heels as they can make the problem worse. Cushioned insoles can help by reducing stress on the knees if you have painful knee joints.

As well as osteoarthritis and injury, there are other less common causes of joint pain. These include fractures, reactive arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or Osgood-Schlatter’s disease.

Reactive arthritis usually affects adults between 20 and 40 years of age and may develop following an infection, often food poisoning or a sexually transmitted infection. It causes redness and inflammation in various joints, particularly the knees, hips, feet, toes and ankles. Reactive arthritis usually gets better in several months.

Up to twenty percent of people with psoriasis will be affected by psoriatic arthritis. Any joint in the body can be affected, but the feet, hands, knees, elbows, spine and neck are most commonly affected. Like osteoarthritis, the condition may become progressively worse. Maintaining mobility in the joint and pain control are important when the condition flares up.

Rheumatoid arthritis often starts with swelling, pain and stiffness in only one joint. The hands, wrists and feet are most commonly affected.

Young adults and teenagers who have swelling and pain just below the kneecap may have Osgood-Schlatter’s disease. This usually occurs when the person is going through a growth spurt and the body’s structures are changing quickly. It usually resolves within weeks or months, but flare-ups of pain and inflammation can be controlled by paracetamol or ibuprofen.

More rare causes of joint pain include septic arthritis, haemophilia, cancer, tropical infections, avascular necrosis and repeated dislocation of the joint.

Septic arthritis

This is a serious condition that can develop very quickly and needs emergency treatment. One or more joints can become swollen, red, hot and painful over several hours or days as the result of a bacterial infection. Sometimes it is also difficult to move the joint. Do see your doctor or go the A&E department of your local hospital because intravenous antibiotics are needed to treat the condition. You will also need to rest the affected joint. The majority of people make a full recovery with treatment.

Haemophilia

Because the blood fails to clot properly in this condition, bleeding can sometimes occur into a joint, causing it to become stiff and painful.

If you have joint pain it should always be investigated so that you can get the appropriate treatment and that any underlying causes can be discovered. If severe pain, inflammation or other symptoms came on suddenly you should seek medical advice so that appropriate treatment can be started immediately. Once the cause of the joint pain has been established, the best way to manage it can be found.

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