When your joints hurt – or ache, or get stiff – it’s easy to assume it’s arthritis. But it may not be.

That’s why it’s important to know what causes joint pain. Because each specific type of pain requires a different solution – and you need to address your pain properly in order to get relief.

The 7 Most Common Causes of Joint Pain

Joint pain is any discomfort in any joint in your body. It may be mild, or it may be nearly debilitating. And it may affect your knees, hips, elbows, shoulders, wrists, ankles and even the tiny joints in your fingers.

Whatever the level of your pain, it’s real and shouldn't be ignored.

1.  Arthritis. The reason it’s easy to assume arthritis is the cause of your joint pain is because it is the most common cause of joint pain. When the cartilage in your joints begins to wear down – because of age, overuse, or disease – you can develop arthritis. The main symptoms are joint pain, swelling, stiffness, and decreased mobility. Surprisingly, there are over 100 different types of arthritis – but all include the deterioration of cartilage.

2.  Sprains. Strains, and Injury. Sometimes, simple overuse can be what causes joint pain. Your joints are made of bones, tendons, ligaments – a lot of moving parts. It’s easy to lift, or bend, or tweak a joint and strain any of those pieces that make up your joints.

3.  Tendinitis. You may have heard of tennis elbow or pitcher’s shoulder. They’re both really tendinitis. Your tendons connect your muscles to your bones. When they become irritated through repetitive motion, injury, or just aging, it causes joint pain.

4.  Flu. How do you tell the difference between a cold and the flu? The flu is what causes joint pain. A cold doesn’t. A cold can still make you miserable – but if your joints hurt, you know it’s flu.

5.  Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. While no one is sure what causes CFS, it is recognized to be a potentially debilitating condition. CFS is identified by constant, incapacitating fatigue that lasts more than 6 months and doesn’t go away no matter how much rest you get, muscle pain, tender lymph nodes, and yes, joint pain.

6.  Fibromyalgia. The 2 primary symptoms of fibromyalgia are muscle pain and joint pain. They are often accompanied by fatigue, depression, and anxiety. While the medical community is still learning about fibromyalgia, it is recognized to be a cause of joint pain.

7.  Bursitis. Bursae are components of your joints. They are sacs that hold fluid important to the lubrication process that keeps your joints moving smoothly. When they become inflamed, it becomes difficult and painful to move your joints. While there are several different types of bursitis, it tends to be caused by some kind of injury – and that injury is what causes joint pain related to bursitis.

What Should You Do About Joint Pain

Let’s be honest – when you hurt, what causes joint pain doesn't seem to matter as much as getting relief.

To address your pain, first be sure to rest your joint. Stay out of the garden, or off the golf course, for a few days. Let someone else lift, or bend, or squat to reach whatever needs reaching. Ice packs can sometimes be helpful.

For simple arthritis pain, a topical pain reliever should be able to ease your pain immediately, and it may be time to consider if taking a joint support supplement may be appropriate for longer relief.

When Should You See a Doctor About Joint Pain

The good news is that temporary joint pain is rarely an emergency, and most mild joint pain can be managed at home. However, on certain occasions, it’s wise to check in with your doctor. You should see your doctor if…

  • You have a fever with your joint pain – but no other flu symptoms
  • You have unintentionally lost 10 or more pounds since your joints started to hurt
  • Your joints hurt for more than 3 days, or the pain is chronic
  • The pain in your joints is severe, sharp, comes on quickly, and is unexplained – especially if the pain in your joints is accompanied by other unexplained symptoms.

Joint pain doesn't have to slow you down. And it certainly doesn't have to get in the way of life. Especially not when you know what causes joint pain in your body. When you know your triggers, and your conditions, you can take the steps you need to stay healthy and active for years to come.