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> > > > > > What are the most common causes of joint and muscle pain?

What are the most common causes of joint and muscle pain?


In osteoarthritis, the cartilage that covers the surface of the bones in your joints becomes roughened and thin. This is linked with damage to the underlying bones, causing:

  • pain
  • stiffness
  • deformity.

Sometimes there may be swelling and a sudden increase in pain.

When osteoarthritis affects your hands, the pain will often settle after a few weeks or months, although some deformity and stiffness may remain.

In joints such as your hips, knees or spine, the pain may last a long time and, in some cases, it may severely limit normal activities.

Possible pain-relief for osteoarthritis include:

Read more about treatments for osteoarthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a form of inflammatory arthritis. Affected joints become:

  • warm
  • swollen
  • painful.

For some, the arthritis goes away after a few months or years. For others, the pain may not go away and is sometimes difficult to control.

Possible pain-relief treatment for rheumatoid arthritis include:

You may need surgery for particularly painful or deformed joints.

Read more about treatments for rheumatoid arthritis.

Neck and back pain

Most people experience short spells of neck pain or back pain that improve without specific treatment. If the pain keeps returning, try exercises to strengthen your muscles and be careful with:

  • your posture and working position
  • bending, twisting or stretching
  • lifting heavy objects.

A small number of people develop chronic back or neck pain. Pain management programmes – involving education, exercise and coping strategies – may help.

Spinal surgery can be highly successful but isn't usually needed. It will only be done after other treatments have been thought about.

Whiplash injuries

Most people with neck pain after a whiplash injury improve with simple measures after a few weeks or months.


Sciatica causes back pain which spreads down one or both legs. It's caused by pressure on nerve roots in the spine.

Sciatica pain may be relieved by spinal injections such as epidurals or nerve root blocks. These injections are x-ray guided and are usually carried out in a day-case operating theatre.

Read more about treatments for neck pain and treatments for back pain.

Chronic pain syndromes

Examples of chronic pain syndromes include:

  • chronic headaches
  • facial pains
  • chronic upper limb pain syndrome – also called repetitive strain injury (RSI).

It's often difficult to find a cause, but the pain is affected by factors such as the way you walk, stand and use your muscles.

If you have chronic pain, you may see a large number of specialists and sometimes receive different (or even contradictory) explanations and a wide variety of suggested treatments.

Because it's so difficult to explain what causes chronic pain it's often more difficult to manage, and you may feel let down by medicine. Some approaches that may help include:

  • pain management clinics specialising in chronic pain
  • rehabilitation, including specialist physiotherapy, occupational therapy and psychology.

Complex regional pain syndrome

In complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), pain is confined to a particular part of the body (for example, one arm or one leg) and often has a burning quality.

CRPS may follow a minor injury, an operation or a stroke, or there may be no clear underlying cause. It's thought that communication pathways between the affected limb and the brain become disrupted, so that pain is either more intense or carries on for longer than expected.

Treatment for CRPS may include:

  • standard painkillers or stronger morphine-like painkillers
  • neuromodulatory drugs (for example, gabapentin or pregabalin), which reduce pain signals from your nerves to your brain
  • sympathetic blocks – an injection that dampens down your sympathetic nervous system
  • rehabilitation, including specialist physiotherapy, occupational therapy and psychology.

Most people with CRPS will benefit from touching or moving the effected limb, in spite of the pain.

Read more about treatment for CRPS.


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