Sometimes, it seems like those aches and pains are an unavoidable part of life. Whether you’re getting older, just came off an intense workout, or are recovering from an injury, we’re all too familiar with joint pain, and it can come and go in unpredictable ways.
Sometimes it can be alleviated by something as simple as taking a few days off from working out or getting a new mattress. Many people struggle because they don’t know the best mattress type for stomach sleepers.
But not every joint pain is routine or easy to resolve. How do you tell the difference between normal aches and pains or joint pain that could be your body giving you a blazing red warning sign? Figuring it out early could make it easy to stop a serious problem in its tracks before it begins seriously impacting your life.
You Experienced an Injury
Pain is common when experiencing a joint injury; the best way to alleviate it is to listen to your body. Rest the affected limb, hold off any strenuous physical activity, and you should experience a clear healing process as the pain and swelling gets less acute with each passing day.
However, if the pain is more acute and seems to occur unpredictably, this may be the sign of a more serious problem. Injuries like partial ligament tears and stress or hairline fractures can hide until they flare up, and may require medical treatment to relieve the pain.
You Have Swelling
Swelling is common with injuries, and should pass when the injury starts to heal. However, if swelling happens out of nowhere, this is cause for concern. It could be a sign of a serious joint injury, or it could be a sign of an infection that won’t go away simply with rest and ice.
If you’re worried about swelling, you can troubleshoot your body before seeking medical help. A cold compress or ice can help to bring swelling down if it’s simply a sign of overuse or a non-acute injury. However, if the swelling seems to be getting worse or is hot to the touch, consult a doctor as soon as possible.
You Have a Fever
This is one of the most common signs that you have a serious health issue rather than standard joint pain. It can be a sign of an infection under the skin or in the bone that could lead to life-threatening issues. It can also be a sign of the chronic health condition rheumatoid arthritis, which can be alleviated if brought to a doctor’s attention.
But the joint pain isn’t always causing the fever – it can be the other way around. It’s common to have joint pain when recovering from the flu or other virus, so a diagnosis can let you know if you need to isolate while recovering. Any time you have a fever, it’s best to seek further care so you can know the source and the best course of action.
It Persists for More Than Three Days
Generally, by the end of a three-day period, your joint pain should start alleviating with rest and other acts of personal care. The exception is with an acute injury that would require medical care, and your doctor can advise you on how to proceed. But if non-acute joint pain seems to be constant, it might be the sign of a deeper problem.
Subtle injuries like stress fractures or ligament tears can appear to be non-acute until they rupture at the worst possible moment. A visit to the doctor to check in on persistent joint pain can catch these problems early and prevent joint deterioration or the need for surgery.
You Cannot Move It
Generally, joint pain will work as a warning system – you’ll have full range of motion, but every motion will cause you a small amount of pain. However, if you are in such pain that you can’t move the joint normally, this is a sign of a serious problem that should be addressed immediately.
This doesn’t necessarily mean a broken bone or torn ligament – sometimes muscle strains can be surprisingly acute, as anyone who’s ever experienced a bad charley horse can testify. Nothing good will ever come out of forcing your body to respond when it’s telling you “No”, so stop and figure out your next move before you could potentially create a worse injury.
Listen To Your Body
Pain is a part of life. Typically, it’s just warning you to slow down and take it easy. However, certain kinds of joint pain are letting you know you might have a more serious issue.
An injury resulting in swelling or the inability to move the joint should get immediate medical attention. Monitor the area to ensure you’re not developing a fever, or you don’t have persistent pain. This is the best way to forestall any permanent damage and return to top form as soon as possible.