Regardless of your activity level, you are a being that moves every day. We often think of muscles as being the sole movers of the body due to their ability to produce strength and power, but much more goes into the act of moving.
If you’ve been experiencing joint discomfort–whether for a short period or over the long term–you know all too well that when your joint hurts, you are limited in what you can and can’t do.
After all, joints are a system of bones, ligaments, tendons, muscles, cartilage, and bursae. An entire joint may be affected if even one of those parts is injured or inflamed.
You know your joints hurt, but now you want to know why.
Due to the number of components that make up a joint as well as individual differences, like genetics and age, the cause of joint discomfort isn’t always clear-cut (although, sometimes it can be as we’ll detail below). In today’s article, we’ll explore the potential scenarios that could result in problematic joint sensations…
Before we dive straight in, let’s start by asking ourselves 5 initial questions:
Did I do anything in particular that could have hurt it?
If yes, what happened and how did my joint feel at that moment as well as immediately after?
How long has my joint been hurting? Minutes, days, weeks, months, or years?
Has it gotten worse over time and have other negative characteristics developed since then?
These questions may lead you to find that a particular movement or activity could have caused the discomfort like hoisting a heavy bag over your shoulder or walking on an uneven, cobble-stoned path. Instances like these can indicate that injury could be the cause.
Joint Discomfort due to Injury
Since injuries like open wounds and fractures tend to be apparent causes of pain, we’re going to address two kinds of injuries that are more difficult to distinguish: sprains and strains.
People often use the two interchangeably. However, they specify whether a muscle/tendon or ligament is injured.
Here’s an easy way to remember the difference:
- A strain is a stretch or tear in a muscle or tendon (tendons attach muscles to bones)
- A sprain is a stretch or tear in a ligament (which connects bone to bone)
Like other injuries, sprains and strains vary in level of severity.
In fact, doctors categorize them in 3 degrees:
- 1st Degree Sprain/Strain (mild)
- 2nd Degree Sprain/Strain (moderate)
- 3rd Degree Sprain/Strain (severe)
How do you know if you’ve sprained a ligament or strained a muscle/tendon?
Consulting your primary care physician, orthopedist, or physical therapist is a great first step to quickly narrow in on what the cause could be.
In addition to your background information–like your description of the event in which the injury took place as well as your explanation of symptoms–your doctor can perform specific muscular tests that pinpoint various muscles by moving your limb(s) actively or passively throughout its range of motion.
From there, you will be able to establish the next steps, which can range from rest and recuperation to performing rehabilitative, strengthening exercises to an MRI if necessary.
Sprains and strains are common injuries that affect the joints, but the actual occurrence of a general injury has the potential to lead to joint discomfort indirectly. The response to an injury is done by the immune system.
Joint Discomfort Associated with the Immune Response
Our immune systems can be very responsive to the things our bodies undergo to fight illness, disease, and other foreign invaders of the body like bacteria. Sometimes, our immune system can “overreact” and elicit unwanted responses.
Joint discomfort is a natural result of our immune system’s response to injury. You might be wondering why we’re saying it’s “associated with” instead of “caused by” the immune response. As you will soon read below, our immune system can be what triggers a discomforting reaction at the joint, and it can also be what results from injury or disease.
Other Causes of Joint Discomfort
Injuries and conditions of the joints commonly result in joint discomfort.
Now, you might be thinking, “I didn’t injure myself, and I doubt that I have a hyperactive immune system…so why do my joints hurt???”
Here are some other causes:
- cold or fever (or another type of illness)
- weakness or muscular imbalances
- weather conditions
Joint discomfort can be an occurrence that stems from a variety of conditions and may range in degree of severity. We always recommend that you approach your doctor if you are experiencing major forms of discomfort.
As always, feel free to contact us here or comment below with specific questions–we’d love to take the time to answer them directly or research them to publish a blog post for other readers as well!