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Why Do All My Joints Hurt Suddenly?
CBD Topical
Chronic Pain
Pain Management

 

Why Do All My Joints Hurt Suddenly?

 


Everybody experiences different types of pain day-to-day that we know and understand the source of. We pull muscles, overextend knees, and occasionally break bones.

However, what about when we experience pain suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere? This can be much more worrisome, and one area of particular concern is joint pain, as it can limit our mobility and make everyday activities much harder.

What Is a Joint?

Sudden joint pain can be alarming. A joint is any area in the body where two or more bones come together, and your joints are crucial to your ability to complete daily activities and common movements, like sitting down.

Surrounding the area where the bones meet is a collection of cartilage and soft tissue (muscular ligaments and tendons) that help the joint move smoothly. If anything disrupts the function of this cartilage and tissue, it can interfere with your range of motion by causing your joints to grind or pop.

What Are the Major Joints in the Body?

While there’s some variation in the number of joints depending on how they’re counted, there are between 250-350 joints in the human body.

The major joints (and often the ones that cause the most problems) are the:

  • Knees
  • Shoulders
  • Neck
  • Fingers and toes
  • Elbows
  • Wrist
  • Spine
  • Ankles

While all joints sit where bones come together, they don't always come together in the same way. Here are a few of the major joint types and examples of where they’re found:

  • Pivot joints: A pivot joint allows for nearly full rotation of the bones that connect into them. The neck is a good example of a pivot joint, as you can turn it almost all the way around, though there is some limitation, as you can’t turn your neck 360 degrees.
  • Ellipsoidal joints: The wrist is an example of this type of joint. It allows a lot of movement, but unlike a pivot joint, it doesn’t allow the same rotation that the neck has.
  • Hinge joints: Joints like the knees, fingers, toes, and elbows work like a door hinge, allowing back-and-forth movement but little to no rotating movement.
  • Ball-and-socket joints: While there is some limitation, joints like the shoulder and hip allow for the most rotation of all the joints. To test this, swing your arm in a circle - the ball and socket joint allows for a full range of motion.

What Types of Pain May Impact the Joints?

One first step toward figuring out why your joints are hurting is learning about the different pain types. Because pain can be grouped by how long it lasts, how severe it is, and what causes it, not all pain types are the same.

Let’s look at some of the main pain types to identify which might best describe your joint pain.

Acute and Chronic Pain

One way to categorize pain is by its duration. The two types of pain in this category are acute and chronic:

  • Acute Pain: Acute pain is the kind of pain you experience when you have an injury or a condition that affects you in the short term. Examples of acute pain include a broken bone, sprain, headache, stomach ache, scratch, or burn. Acute pain starts getting better after its onset, meaning there’s always an end in sight.
  • Chronic Pain: Just the mere mention of chronic pain might be enough to give you a sense of dread. Chronic pain affects you over months, years, or even decades. Often, pain that affects multiple joints can stem from diseases or conditions that are chronic in nature.

If your pain’s onset is very sudden, it may be more likely to be acute in nature, but this isn’t always the case. Sometimes, joint pain can start suddenly as a stabbing, sharp pain, but may change over time into gnawing, throbbing, chronic pain.

Radicular Pain

Radicular pain comes from damage to the joints in the spine. When the back vertebrae are affected, and the nerves in the spinal cord are pressed, pinched, slipped, or ruptured, there will be radial pain. The source of the pain might be in the spinal cord, but because the sciatic nerve runs all the way from the lower back to the feet, it may be felt in the joints, especially the hips and knees.

We tend to think of work that is labor intensive to be the type that would damage the spinal cord. However, a job that requires a lot of sitting can also cause radicular pain.

This is because the spinal cord bears a lot of stress from being in the same position for long stretches of time. If a spinal issue is causing your joint pain, this can often be diagnosed with a simple X-ray or MRI of the spinal cord.

Neuropathic Pain

When the central nervous system is damaged, the neurons (nerves throughout the body that sense pain) don’t work properly. Often, neuropathic pain is called neuropathy, and it’s characterized by numbness, tingling, throbbing, and extreme hot and cold, especially in the hands and feet.

If you are dealing with neuropathy, you may feel aching in your fingers and toes that ebbs and flows depending on your activity levels, the temperature and time of year, and what you eat and drink. A number of neuropathic conditions can affect the joints in the body, usually causing dull pain that comes and goes.

What Conditions Can Cause Joint Pain?

Many diseases, disorders, and illnesses can affect the joints in the body — sometimes even impacting multiple joints at the same time.

Here are some of the main conditions associated with pain in multiple joints.

Arthritic Conditions

One of the most common causes of joint pain is arthritis, which is an inflammation of one or more joints. While it’s often used as a general way of describing joint pain, there are a number of different types of arthritis that have different causes.

Here are some of the most common types of arthritis:

  • Osteoarthritis: The most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis, results from wear and tear on the joints over time. It usually comes with age, so you’re more at risk if you’re over 50 years of age, but it can develop earlier if you engage in activities that are hard on the joints, like sprinting. Osteoarthritis is characterized by pain and swelling, especially in the hips, knees, and wrists, and usually comes on slowly over months or years.
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis: Because it’s an autoimmune type of arthritis, with rheumatoid arthritis, the body itself attacks the joints, wearing down the cartilage that surrounds and protects them. The pain can be similar to osteoarthritis but can come on suddenly and affect multiple joints.
  • Gout: A specific type of arthritis that can appear very suddenly is gout. This condition is caused by a buildup of uric acid in the joints that crystallizes, causing them to become stiff and resulting in extreme pain, most commonly in the big toe. Eating excess red meat is a risk factor for gout.
  • Tendonitis: Often resulting from sports injuries, tendonitis is the inflammation of tendons that attach to bones. It can be very painful when doing any activities that irritate the inflamed tendon.
  • Bursitis: There are small, fluid-filled sacs called bursae in the joints throughout our bodies. When these sacs get inflamed from an injury or illness, the affected joint becomes sore and swollen. Bursitis usually happens to the knees, elbows, shoulders, or hips.

Autoimmune Diseases

It’s estimated that about 3% of the population have some kind of autoimmune disease, which equates to well over 10 million people. What makes autoimmune diseases even more prevalent is the fact that if you develop one autoimmune condition, you're much more likely to develop another.

An autoimmune disease is any chronic condition where the body attacks itself because the body's chemistry has recognized certain parts of the body as being hostile when they aren’t.

With many autoimmune disorders, simple bodily processes become extremely complicated or impossible. For example, in celiac disease, when gluten is eaten (a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye), the body can’t break it down, destroying the intestinal tract instead of absorbing the nutrients.

Similarly, when someone has diabetes, their body doesn’t create enough insulin to break down sugar, which can lead to disastrous consequences if not regulated by injecting synthetic insulin daily.

Autoimmune disorders are often very confusing because they can cause joint pain all over the body but can be caused by seemingly unrelated factors. It’s important to talk to your doctor immediately if you have a suspected autoimmune disorder and are suddenly experiencing joint pain all over your body, as this could be a sign of more serious damage.

Here are some common autoimmune disorders that cause joint pain:

  • Lupus: This is a painful condition that affects the immune system. When you have lupus, your body attacks itself, wearing down the joints and internal organs. Lupus can cause a long list of physical problems, but extreme fatigue and painful, swollen joints are two common symptoms.
  • Fibromyalgia: This is a chronic, neuropathic condition that is still somewhat unclear to doctors and medical researchers. Many of the symptoms are very similar to lupus, especially widespread joint pain. Fibromyalgia is marked by flare-ups of exhaustion and an increased risk of debilitating anxiety and depression.
  • Lyme Disease: Although it's not technically considered an autoimmune disorder in the traditional sense, Lyme disease can cause autoimmune responses from the body, including sudden joint pain. If left untreated, this tick-borne illness can cause serious neurological problems.

 

How Can You Treat Joint Pain?

Is Arthritis Hereditary? Understanding factors of Arthritis

While you should discuss any widespread, sudden pain with a healthcare professional as soon as possible, there are some ways that you can address your joint pain in the meantime.

Here are a few suggestions for managing your joint pain:

  • Heat therapy (heating pads, hot baths, or showers)
  • Ice packs
  • Physical therapy
  • NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen)
  • Keeping active (stretching, exercise)
  • Massage therapy
  • Pain relief medication (over the counter or prescribed by a doctor)
  • Natural supplements (remedies from herbs, spices, or plants)
  • Topical pain relievers (balms, creams, lotions, ointments)

Dealing With Sudden Joint Pain

If you have severe, sudden joint pain, consult your doctor promptly, as it’s always best to start by ruling out a more serious condition.

If your pain is less severe or you already have a definite diagnosis for your pain, it might be worth trying a variety of interventions to try and deal with the pain. That said, you should still consult your doctor, especially if you aren’t sure where your pain is stemming from or why.

Talk to your healthcare provider about trying to find ways of addressing your discomfort so you can regain your quality of life.

Sources:

Radiculopathy | Johns Hopkins Medicine

How Many Joints in the Human Body: Types of Joints, Variables & More

The Best Ways to Treat, Prevent Tendonitis - Health Encyclopedia - University of Rochester Medical Center

Prevalence of Autoimmune Diseases

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