When we think of joint pain we often think of elderly people with disfigured fingers and sore joints that cause mobility problems. While that is certainly true, in fact it is the primary cause of disability among those over 55 years of age, children as young as 12 may suffer from some type of joint pain. Since several forms of joint pain are from wear and tear and degeneration, it makes sense that most sufferers are older.
But there are more than 100 different medical conditions that are classified as joint pain, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout and juvenile arthritis. They run the gamut from joint degeneration to autoimmune diseases. Degenerative forms of arthritis occur due to injury, misuse or overuse of certain joints, while autoimmune forms attack the body’s tissue rather than the bacteria causing the illness.
You’re probably wondering how on earth you could be aware of early warning signs of arthritis when there are so many variations. That’s a good question but you only need to look at the root of the word ‘arthritis’ to understand. Arthritis has its origins in the Greek language, where arthro means joint and itis means inflammation. So combined you can see that you will almost certainly experience some pain or discomfort in your joints.
Recognizing the Signs
The main reason joint pain seems like such an ongoing lifelong problem is because we fail to recognize the symptoms early. But according to the Arthritis Foundation, “you want to find out early so you can take steps to protect your joints from ongoing pain and permanent damage.”
But we all recognize the difficulty in missing the early warning signs of joint pain. For one thing joint pain starts in different ways for different people, and the speed with which it comes on can make it difficult to discern joint pain symptoms from injury or overuse. You might find some symptoms appear for a week or two and then disappear, only to come back months later.
Not all aches and pains in the joints mean joint pain, but there are some signs that will tell you your pain is more than run-of-the-mill muscle and joint tightness.
Early Warning Signs
Morning stiffness occurs within the first 30 to 60 minutes after you awake. You might find it difficult or impossible to move and it typically doesn’t go away or lessen with movements. Most often sufferers simply have to wait it out until the joints loosen on their own.
Decreased range of motion is a hallmark of joint pain, particularly when paired with pain or welling in the joints. The loss of range of motion won’t be permanent in the early stages, but if it lasts for more than a couple weeks it could be a sign that it is something more than working out too much.
Red, hot pain is another early warning sign of joint pain. Usually this starts as excruciating pain in a particular area. Upon closer examination you will notice the joint is red, swollen and hot to the touch. You may also find that this area is very tender when pressed.
Fatigue and flu-like symptoms will let you know right away that your pain and swelling is due to more than a sports injury. You might find that, in addition to joint pain and swelling, you are always tired and have lost your appetite. Some patients experience a lasting low grade fever as well as weight loss. Aching joints and flu-like symptoms are early warning signs that you may have rheumatoid arthritis.
Grinding joints feel exactly as they sound, as though your joints or bones are rubbing against one another. This sensation is a good indicator that you have more than a basic injury. Sometimes this grinding sensation accompanies cracking or clicking sounds when you move. These two early warning signs may occur together, but you shouldn’t be surprised if you experience them together.
Joint pain that occurs after using certain joints for longer periods than your body is used to. You might find that putting together furniture, which puts you in odd positions such as squatting or gripping for extended periods of time, is followed by pain or stiffness. The key here is that the pain doesn’t come on immediately, but rather hours later or sometimes the next day.