What is joint pain?
Joints are the points of motion around the body where bones meet, held together by the various muscles, tendons, and ligaments throughout. You may be wondering what the difference is between these tissues, so let's break it down:
• Ligaments – are the fibrous connective tissue between two bones
• Muscles – a contractile tissue that produces motion. While there are various types of muscle, for the purpose of this article, this refers to skeletal muscle.
• Tendons – are the fibrous connective tissue between muscles and bones
What are the symptoms?
Many conditions can cause joint pain, but some of the ones we are more familiar with, such as rheumatoid arthritis, can develop gradually over many years.
What causes sudden joint inflammation?
If the bones were allowed to grind past one another without lubrication, they would slowly wear down over time, as is the case with osteoarthritis. To prevent this, a lubricant known as synovial fluid bathes the joint capsule and cartilage, creating a normally frictionless glide in healthy joints. However, certain conditions can alter this critical function.
• The most straightforward cause of sudden joint pain would be due to injury. A fall could shift the bones out of alignment, create inflammation in the joint capsule, or lead to joint effusion where the precious synovial fluid leaks out of the joint space.
• When estrogen levels in the female body fall, as is the case with menopause, the bone building cells known as osteoblasts are less active. If the bone isn't being laid down, then they begin to degrade and could lead to osteoporosis. Interestingly enough, there has been some preliminary research where increasing estrogen levels has led to less severe osteoarthritis and joint cartilage degradation. Most of these studies have specifically looked at osteoarthritis of the knee however.
• Sudden joint pain could also be due to an infection, either viral or bacterial, making its way into the joint space and causing an infection known as septic arthritis. If left untreated, the infectious agent could cause permanent damage to the tissues.
• Gout is a condition where uric acid levels rise in joint spaces, especially the big toe, leading to inflammation and pain so severe that it often wakes those suffering from sleep. However, this condition is very treatable when foods containing purines, such as scallops or red meat, are avoided as purines are converted into uric acid. It is also important to drink plenty of fluids as dehydration allows the uric acid levels to concentrate and instigate an acute gout attack.
Will the pain spread? How can I prevent it from getting worse?
Inflammation always has the potential to spread by its very nature. The release of inflammatory agents into various tissues and the bloodstream can irritate cells and cause them to inflame. When they become inflamed, the normally tight regions between certain cells can shift, allowing these agents to slip through into areas they might not otherwise have access to.
It can be extremely helpful to focus on maintaining low levels of inflammation throughout the body. Stress can encourage a cascade of inflammatory agents to be released into the body, which is okay if the body becomes calm once more and sweeps the pro-inflammatories out of our system. Chronic stress, or stress that goes untreated through coping mechanisms such as hobbies, adequate sleep, or exercise, can maintain inappropriately high levels of these agents throughout the body.
Curcumin, the active component in turmeric, has become something of a hot topic in the health world, and for good reason. A systematic review of the literature on the influence of curcumin in treating joint pain was promising as those in the studies included experienced a significant decrease in the frequency and severity of their joint pain. The authors note that more research is needed before everyone starts consuming the golden spice.
Are there any products that can help alleviate some of my pain right now?
Two herbs are going to quickly become your friend in a situation such as this. The first is known as Arnica montana, an herb common to Europe, Siberia, and northwestern United States. This has historically been used for controlling inflammation and stimulating the circulation of blood in the area of application. This is important for those with joint pain as controlling inflammatory agents can be key to containing the pain, especially if applied topically before bedtime when used as a gel, such as products like Absolüt Arnica. The other herb is Harpagophytum procumbens, otherwise known as Devil's Claw, a species native to south Africa. The harpagosides, the active constituent of the plant also acts as an anti-inflammatory and can be taken internally in conjunction with a topical application of Arnica. Products such as Joint Pain Relief tablets can provide this benefit, but the European Medicines Agency notes that it could take 2-3 months to notice significant benefits as the harpagosides accumulate in the tissues of the body with patients noticing decreased pain and increased joint mobility.