What are Common Causes of Severe Joint Pain?

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  • Written By: Susan Grindstaff
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 10 February 2019
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The most common causes of severe joint pain include rheumatoid arthritis, bursitis, and osteoarthritis. Sometimes severe joint pain does not come from the joint itself, but may be related to injuries to muscles or tendons near the joint. Some inflammatory diseases such as fibromyalgia and lupus can also lead to joint pain. Severe joint pain is typically more common in elderly people, due to normal breakdown of connective tissues inside and surrounding the joints.

Osteoarthritis is considered by many health experts to be the leading cause of joint pain. It is a type of arthritis that sometimes occurs when joints are overused, which can cause cartilage inside the joints to wear down until the bones are literally rubbing against each other. This often causes severe joint pain, swelling, and inflammation. Osteoarthritis is often considered a common condition of aging, and the tendency to develop the condition may be genetic. Some studies seem to indicate that overweight people may be more at risk because their joints have to bear more weight.


Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder, and generally affects the smaller joints, such as in the hands and feet. Like many other autoimmune disorders, rheumatoid arthritis occurs because the immune system mistakenly begins to attack healthy tissue, particularly linings inside the joints. In addition to severe joint pain, rheumatoid arthritis can affect other organs in the body and can cause chronic fatigue. There is no known cure as yet for rheumatoid arthritis, though it can often be managed and treated with pain medication and anti-inflammatory drugs.

Bursitis is a condition that is sometimes mistaken for arthritis, because like arthritis, it can frequently cause severe joint pain. The main difference between bursitis and arthritis is that bursitis is an inflammation of tissue that surrounds the joint, instead of inside the joint itself. Small sacks of liquid called bursa protect joints, and when the sacks burst or leak, joints lose some of their protection, and severe joint pain can result. Bursitis often occurs in the knees or hips.

To determine the cause of severe joint pain, doctors typically conduct tests that may involve X-rays or ultrasounds. Once the actual cause of the pain has been diagnosed, a method of treatment can be recommended. In some instances, surgery may be an option, especially if the severe joint pain is caused by an injury. Other treatments might include pain medication, steroids, and other anti-inflammatory drugs. Lifestyle changes are often recommended, including changes in diet and weight loss.



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