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Joint pain

What is a joint?

A joint is the point of connection between two (or more) bones. There are different types of joints, which have varying degrees of mobility. The knee, shoulder, hip and fingers are very movable joints, while the vertebrae are less movable, and the joints of the skull are immovable. The tolerated movements of the skeleton are delimited by the presence of ligaments, which connect the two bones and surround the joint capsule. The various movements are produced by the action of the muscle contracting and pulling on the tendon that attaches muscle to bone. Bursae facilitate the gliding motion between the various structures. They provide lubrication and absorb shock at pressure points of the bones, tendons and muscles near a joint.

The end of each bone is covered in a thin layer of articular cartilage, a pad of well-lubricated, smooth, elastic tissue. The space between the two cartilaginous ends contains synovial fluid, a clear, viscous fluid that serves to reduce friction by lubricating the joint and to absorb shock. Since cartilage is not vascularised, the synovial fluid also supplies oxygen and nutrients to the chondrocytes (cells) in the cartilage, eliminates metabolic waste, and contains phagocytes which destroy debris and microorganisms. The cartilage also receives nutrition via the subchondral bone, a layer binding bone to cartilage. It also supplies stem cells and structural molecules to the cartilage.

What are the possible causes of joint pain?

Joint pain can be acute (lasting a few weeks), for example, after a fall, an improper movement, a poor landing or repetitive, intense exercises. This is the case of strains or sprains, where the ligament (connecting the two bones in the joint) is badly stretched (or torn in severe cases) leading to inflammation, swelling and pain. With tendonitis, the tendon (attaching muscle to bone) becomes inflamed or irritated, causing a dull pain during movement. Bursitis is an inflammation of the bursae, which causes localised pain, redness and swelling and can affect different areas of the joint. Joints can also be dislocated. This is where the bones forming the joint are no longer in the correct position to allow proper contact.

Where pain lasts several months, or even years, it is considered to be chronic. The most common is osteoarthritis, which is caused by excessive degeneration of cartilage. It is a complex disease that also affects the subchondral bones (osteophytes, sclerosis), synovial fluid, ligaments and muscles. This abnormal wear may be due to several factors, in particular, impact and injury, physical inactivity, misalignment, being overweight, repetitive movements, certain intensive sports, muscle wasting, genetic or metabolic factors (especially for joints in the hands), inflammatory factors, or a vitamin deficiency. Back pain is very common across the population. Back pain can be triggered by a muscle contraction, but it can also be caused by degeneration of the intervertebral discs, often associated with osteoarthritis or, in rare cases, with a more serious underlying illness. Rheumatoid arthritis is another common joint disorder. It is an inflammatory autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the joints, causing them to become swollen, painful and stiff. This inflammation damages the cartilage, joint capsule, tendons, ligaments, muscles and bones. Rheumatoid arthritis often progresses erratically and is accompanied by extreme fatigue.

Other diseases can also have osteoarticular effects, for example, lupus, infections, tumours, gout or genetic disorders affecting the bones…

What can you do about joint pain?

In the event of persistent joint pain, the first step is to see a specialist doctor, especially if the cause of pain has not been identified. The specialist will be able to determine what condition you are suffering from and how advanced it is, and will therefore be able to tell you how best to proceed.

However, it is also well known that changing certain habits can be beneficial.

 

 

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