Joint Pain and the Causes

Humans have 206 bones in our body that are connected with tough collagen tissue.  If the collagen begins to breakdown, then joint pain and immobility can ensue. What causes joint pain and swelling?

As a structure that connects two bones of your body, joints could be considered the most easily to be affected parts of your skeletal make up.

Joints are made of a sheath aka the capsule, which is lined by the synovial membrane which covers all the interior parts of the joint including the ends of the bones to act as a buffer against bone to bone friction, the membrane covers a cartilage on each bone end, and it has ligaments connecting the bones and in it is contained the synovial fluid which acts as a cushion guarding against direct trauma to the joints.


What causes joint pain?

Because of these characters of any joint, any problem involving the joints, would fall into a problem of the sheath, membrane, ligaments, cartilage, bones involved or fluid contained within.

These problems can further be categorized according to type of pathology, such as a tumor, an inflammatory disease, trauma, or a systemic disorder.

So, taking these bits of information into perspective, joint swelling can be caused by tens if not hundreds of causes.

But there are prime suspects as in the most common to occur problems causing joint swelling and next we will discuss the most prominent of them.

Traumatic causes of joint swelling:

Any kind of direct or indirect trauma can affect your joints causing damage to either the sheath or cartilage would cause edema which is collection of fluid at the affected part thus causing swelling. Direct trauma is impacting your joint and indirect trauma is an impact to one of the bones that compose the joint ends affecting the joint because of back pressure.  Continuous stress on the joints, such as from running, basketball, squash, tennis, skateboarding, etc. can overuse the joints and eventually lead to joint problems. Trauma is the second most common cause of joint swelling. Traumatic causes are:

  1. Direct hit to the joint without affecting the capsule or the inner structure of the joint.
  2. Joint dislocation because of direct or indirect trauma.
  3. Bone fracture at one end of the joint affecting the nearest joint.
  4. Rupture of the protective capsule because of a direct hit.


Whether benign or malignant, any tumor around or inside the joint would cause swelling of the joint. To differentiate from other causes of joint swelling, it usually involves a hard mass around the joint.  Fortunately, tumors of joints and bones is relatively rare.

Inflammatory diseases

Any inflammation round or within the joint will cause swelling, and this is the most common cause for joint swelling. Inflammatory diseases of the joint fall into three categories:

  1. Infective inflammation: any infection around of within the joint will cause an inflammatory reaction and swelling of the joint, usually noticeable by redness and hotness of the surrounding area of the joint.
  2. Autoimmune disease: Like rheumatic arthritis, rheumatism, Lupus erythematosus, etc. Usually involves other symptoms and affection of the body and is in more than one joint or group of joints.
  3. Friction inflammation: Chronic friction caused by exercise, severe loads on the joint or aging would cause eventual swelling of the joints. Some of the chronic issues you might know as tennis elbow or bursitis which is caused by trauma to an existing bursa that is a vascular sac swelling from the joint.

Systemic disorders

People suffering from diabetes, renal, liver or heart problems might suffer at some time or another from edema of the lower limbs including swelling of the joints. Usually these are diseases that affect the entire body to some degree and the joint swelling is just another element of a bigger picture.

As mentioned out of these reasons the most common are inflammatory diseases followed by trauma, and they are usually quite easy to spot and diagnose once you pay a visit to your family doctor.

In the meantime there are ways to decrease the swelling and alleviating the accompanying pain and discomfort in your own house.

Methods to deal with joint swelling in the comfort of your house.

There are many ways you can handle join swelling and pain using readily available methods in your home, the following is a list of them:

Joint Pain and the Causes

Relief for Joint Pain

Lose Weight

A major complicating factor for joint problems is excess weight, losing the weight will help to reduce the pressure element of your joint swelling.

Cold and hot treatment

Alternating cold ice packs with hot poultices on your affected joint would alleviate the pain and swelling within minutes although it doesn’t have lasting effects.


In moderation and without straining your joint, walking or Tai-Chi could be a very good way to help the healing of the affected joint. Strengthening the muscles around the joint helps to decrease the load on the joint thus decreasing the pain and swelling.


Turmeric is an ancient spice used in traditional Chinese medicine which has very powerful anti-inflammatory effects. Especially good for inflammatory causes of joint swelling and for autoimmune causes as well. Can be taken orally or used as a topical application to the affected joint.

What else is turmeric good for?

Anti-inflammatory diet

The western diet includes too much sugar and omega 6 oils which all incite inflammation through prostaglandins.  Eat less sugar. Eat fats from whole plants, e.g. avocado, nuts, seeds. Avoid deep fried oily foods, like doughnuts and french fries.  The antioxidant effects of green tea are widely known, but green tea also decreases edema if applied locally and would thus decrease the swelling. Orally, green tea also helps to regulate the problems happening in systemic disorders that cause joint swelling.

Essential oils

The mix of ginger and cinnamon has very powerful effects on both decreasing the edema and decreasing the pain in your joints. They also work as counter irritant causing the effect to happen very fast.


A carefully applied massage of the muscles supporting the joint followed massaging the joint itself, helps to reduce the edema and pain considerably.


Aside from the fact that meditation grants you a relief from the anxiousness usually happening with any long-term illness, it will help to control the pain and adjust your mind to accept part of the pain.

A remedy that is too good to be true!

Over the counter NSAIDs

Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) like Aspirin, Advil and Aleve would work to relieve the pain and inflammation thus decreasing the symptoms and the swelling. But you should never use them for long periods exceeding a week without medical supervision, so please ask your family doctor without deciding on following a long-term usage of any NSAID.

There are many other ways to deal with joint swelling that might mask a bigger problem, so, if the pain and swelling persists after the usage of any of the above methods, please resort to your family doctor as soon as possible.

Dr. Patrick Quillin

Dr. Patrick Quillin, PhD,RD,CNS is an internationally recognized expert in the area of nutrition and health. He has 30 years experience as a clinical nutritionist, of which 10 years were spent as the Vice President for a leading cancer hospital system where he worked with thousands of cancer patients in a hospital setting. He is a Best Selling Author with 18 books which have sold over 2,000,000 copies and also a Keynote Speaker.