Joint Pain

Joint pain is discomfort, aches, or soreness felt in areas such as the knees, shoulders, and hips. It is often caused by inflammation in or around the joint. Injuries to the area generally result in temporary soreness, but prolonged pain can be a symptom of a chronic condition that requires the guidance of a doctor or other healthcare professional.

Joint pain is very common. In fact, one national survey found that about one-third of adults reported having joint pain within the last 30 days. Fortunately, most cases of mild or moderate joint pain respond well to rest and self-care.

Causes and Symptoms of Joint Pain

Joint pain often stems from damage to tendons, tissues, or bones located in and around a joint. This damage may be the result of repetitive motions or poor movement patterns. Joint pain can also result from an injury incurred during exercise or sports, or as the result of a fall. The duration and severity of the pain can vary greatly depending on the specific injury, your age, co-existing health conditions, and lifestyle factors.

Arthritis is one of the most common causes of joint pain, with over 54 million people suffering from some type of arthritis. Arthritis is chronic inflammation of one or multiple joints that tends to worsen with age. If you think you may have arthritis, you should speak with your doctor and discuss treatment options that may be right for you.

Joint pain symptoms include: 

  • Achiness or stiffness 
  • Painfulness to the touch or with movement 
  • Swelling and redness 
  • Sharp pain when weight is put on the joint 

If you experience sudden joint pain after an injury such as a serious fall, you should see a healthcare professional immediately.  

Treatments for Joint Pain

Mild to moderate joint pain usually gets better on its own. The most basic way to treat your pain is to rest and avoid movements that strain the joint. But you may want to consider adding more options to your treatment toolkit, including at-home treatments and over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers.

At-Home Treatments and Activities 

When experiencing joint pain, there are a few simple steps you can take at home to find relief, including:

  • Protection – protect the injured joint with a brace or wrap
  • Rest – avoid any activities that cause the injured joint pain
  • Ice – apply ice to the injured joint for about 15 minutes, several times a day
  • Compression – apply an elastic bandage to the injured joint
  • Elevation – elevate the joint above the level of your heart

Light stretching and exercise can also promote healing by increasing blood flow to the area. Strengthening the muscles around the joint can help to stabilize the area and make the joint less likely to be injured in the future.

Over-the-Counter Medicines 

Over-the-counter pain relievers can provide temporary relief from aches and pains due to muscle aches and minor arthritis pain.

OTC pain relievers come in many forms. Some are taken orally in pill, capsule, or liquid form. These include medicines containing acetaminophen, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, ibuprofen, magnesium salicylate, and naproxen sodium. Our Pain Reliever Assessment will help you identify personal risk factors that you can discuss with your healthcare professional to find the right oral OTC pain reliever for you.

There are also OTC topical pain relievers that are applied to the skin around a painful joint. Common active ingredients in these medicines include menthol, methyl salicylate, and capsaicin.

When taking OTC pain relievers, it is important to understand that each medicine has potential side effects and interactions with other drugs. Always read the Drug Facts label on the medicine’s bottle or packaging to determine if you have any risk factors related to the medicine’s active ingredients.

OTC medicines can provide safe and effective relief for mild to moderate pain. They aren’t meant to treat chronic pain conditions on a consistent or long-term basis, unless directed by your healthcare professional.

Find out which oral over-the-counter pain relievers are right for you.

Complete our Pain Reliever Assessment to learn how your personal risk factors can influence which OTC pain relievers you should use.

Take the Assessment

When to Talk to a Healthcare Professional

Joint pain typically goes away with minimal care, but some cases may require you to see a healthcare professional.

Talk to your doctor or other healthcare professional if you experience:

  • A joint deformity, such as a mallet finger or bunion
  • Complete inability to use the joint
  • Intense pain
  • Rapid swelling

If you have questions about which OTC pain reliever to take, talk with a doctor or other healthcare professional about which product is right for you. During your appointment, be sure to mention any health conditions you have and note the dosage of all medicines and dietary supplements that you are currently taking. You can find risk factors for OTC medicines you are using on the Drug Facts label.

A healthcare professional can also recommend additional measures to take if you are not obtaining the desired results from at-home or over-the-counter treatments.

Learn More About Pain Management

There is a lot to consider when it comes to managing your pain. Understanding which treatments work best for you is important.

Take our Pain Reliever Assessment to learn about your personal risk factors and which oral OTC pain reliever is right for you.

Read our Expert Advice articles to learn how to use OTC medicines safely and effectively.