A global study showed that joint pain affects more than 40% of the population aged 18 onwards, severely impacting their ability to work, exercise and go about their daily routines. For almost half of us, joint pain is a weekly occurrence, making it hard to spend time on hobbies and to enjoy the shared passions that really matter with our friends and family.
Worryingly, the study also reveals that about 47% of the population with joint pain hide it from their loved ones, often waiting for days before taking action to relieve their pain.
What is joint pain?
It is pain that arises from problems within the joint. A joint is a junction between two bones. There are various types of joints, but the ones we are all familiar with are called synovial joints, which are joints that facilitate movement. The name derives from the word ‘synovium,’ which is the lining of the joint which allows it to move smoothly. Movement is aided by the production of synovial fluid, which is the lubricating fluid found at the joint.
Who suffers from joint pain?
Unfortunately, everybody will suffer from joint pain at some point in their lives. This can vary from minor, temporary pain, like knee aches from a game of football with the kids, to more persistent or debilitating pain, which may require medical attention.
In general, the older we are, the more likely we are to suffer from joint pain. This is because, as we age, our bones may become thinner due to the loss of calcium and other minerals. Other factors that contribute to joint pain include joints becoming stiffer and less flexible, loss of cartilage in hip and knee joints, and reduced muscle strength.
What are the causes of joint pain?
Joint pain can be caused by wear and tear around the joint, or ‘degenerative’ joint pain. It can also be due to injuries.
Also, there are two main categories of diseases that can cause joint pain. Osteoarthritis is the primary condition associated with degenerative joint pain, occurring when the cushioning material or cartilage between joint breaks down to cause pain, stiffness and swelling.
In comparison, there are an array of conditions which can result in inflammatory joint pain, such as rheumatoid arthritis and gout. The level of joint pain very much depends on its cause.
When is joint pain a problem?
In many cases, joint pain is temporary and goes away once the body has had time to heal. However, if the joint pain or problem is substantial enough to impair our function or if the problem persists, we should seek medical attention.
What are the longterm effects of joint pain?
If the pain is severe or causes ongoing functional difficulties, it may become a disability, resulting in long-term impairment.
Suffering from any type of joint pain can have a significant impact on our quality of life – the discomfort and reduced function can affect our ability to easily go about our daily routine, prevent us from enjoying activities with friends and family or even from making a living. All this can take a toll on us both physically and emotionally. Joint pain can also have an indirect effect on the economy in terms of affecting employee productivity, impacting companies and organizations on a broader scale.
How can joint pain be managed?
There are a range of steps we can take to relieve ourselves from the everyday joint pains that many of us experience. Paracetamol is a recommended form of treatment for short-term joint pain and is often used by patients as a first step, effectively reducing pain for between 4-6 hours when taken at the recommended dose. Extended-release paracetamol can also be useful in pain management as the slow-release formula reduces the number of pills people need to take a day, providing both immediate and sustained pain relief for several hours.
Other methods such as massage, plasters, gels or other topicals (medicines applied on the surface of the body) are also available to help ease joint pain.
The way joint pain is managed is dependent on the severity and cause of the pain. It is also down to the patient’s personal experience; often, patients will experience varying degrees of pain, and it is up to the sufferer to determine just how much pain or discomfort they are willing to put up with.
What are the challenges or misconceptions associated with paracetamol use?
Paracetamol is one of the most widely used of all medicines and is commonly available. Because of this prevalence, individuals may be unaware of, or occasionally, may overlook how much paracetamol they should be taking, and may consequently exceed the recommended dose.
Using all medicines carries a certain degree of risk and so it is important to ensure that we always read and follow the label. When taken at the recommended dose – that is, 500 mg to 1,000 mg every 4 to 6 hours as needed (but not exceeding 4 g a day) for adults and children over 12 years – paracetamol has a low rate of side effects and rarely causes serious interactions with other medicines. This is particularly important as people grow older and may use multiple types of medication at the same time.
Another challenge associated with paracetamol in pain management is the persistent myth amongst certain individuals that paracetamol causes dependency or “accumulate” in the body, a misconception which may prevent them from managing their joint pain appropriately. In actual fact, studies have shown that, when taken as directed, 85-90% of ingested paracetamol is expelled from the body within 24 hours in most healthy people.
What should I do if my joint pain doesn’t go away?
Joint pain is a problem that many of us will suffer from at some point, but one which can usually be managed easily. If our joint pain persists, seek advice from our doctor to ensure that your joint pain is managed effectively and appropriately.
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