Joint pain is a very common problem with many possible causes - but it's usually a result of injury or arthritis.
The information and advice on this page should not be used to self-diagnose your condition, but it should give you a better idea of what is causing your pain and what you should do.
Of all the joints, the knee joint is probably the most frequently damaged and the most susceptible to pain. But knee pain isn't always a joint problem. Learn about the most common causes of knee pain and what you should do.
The most common and more unusual causes of pain in a single joint are described below.
In older people, joint pain that gets steadily worse is usually a sign of osteoarthritis, which is the most common type of arthritis in the UK. It may affect just one joint, or many. Read more about the symptoms of osteoarthritis.
Osteoarthritis causes pain and stiffness because it damages the protective surface of the bones and cause mild swelling of the tissues in and around the joint.
It can sometimes affect younger people, especially those who are overweight or those who have had serious injuries to the joint in the past.
You should see your doctor if you think this is the cause of your joint pain.
If you've injured the joint recently and it suddenly becomes painful again, the cause could be inflammation of the thin layer of tissue lining the joints and tendons - a condition called traumatic synovitis. It usually does not to cause any redness or heat.
You should be able to manage injury-related swelling at home with anti-inflammatories, an icepack and rest.
If the skin over the joint is hot and red, and the pain comes in repeated attacks, the cause is likely to be gout or pseudogout, which are types of arthritis.
Gout is caused by a build-up of uric acid (a waste product) in the body. Uric acid builds up if the kidneys do not excrete it properly or if too much is produced.
If the level becomes very high, crystals form in the joints. The crystals cause the joints to become inflamed and severely painful. You will barely be able to move the joint and may have a slight fever.
Gout usually affects the joint of the big toe first, before affecting other joints. It's important to correctly diagnose gout, as treatment will prevent future attacks of joint pain and disability.
Pseudogout is a similar condition to gout, in that crystals of calcium are deposited in and around the joint. However, unlike gout, pseudogout can affect the knee joint first.
You should see your doctor if you think you have either condition.
Knee pain that feels worse when going up or down stairs could be a sign of a damaged kneecap – a condition called chondromalacia patellae. This shouldn't cause any redness or heat around the knee.
The cause is not really understood, but it can be linked to overuse of the knee.
You can treat this problem yourself with anti-inflammatories, an icepack and rest.
If you have recently had an injury to the knee joint, such as a torn ligament or knee fracture, it may cause bleeding into the joint spaces. This is known as haemarthrosis.
This is more likely to happen to people on anticoagulants, such as warfarin.
Signs of haemarthrosis are swelling of the knee, warmth, stiffness and bruising, which occur soon after the injury.
You should go to hospital immediately for treatment if you have a very swollen knee.
Sudden pain in a joint is less commonly caused by:
Rarely, the cause may be:
In older people, the commonest cause of joint pain is osteoarthritis. This may affect just one joint, or many.
Many people also have rheumatoid arthritis at the same time.
Read about the symptoms of osteoarthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis is another type of arthritis that causes pain and swelling in the joints – most commonly the hands, feet and wrists.
The pain may come and go in the early phases, with long periods between attacks.
It can leave you feeling generally unwell and tired. Read more about the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
Psoriatic arthritis affects up to one in five people with psoriasis. This type of arthritis is unpredictable, but flare-ups can be usually be managed with treatment.
Like other types of arthritis, it means that one or more of your joints are inflamed and become swollen, stiff, painful and difficult to move.
Examples are viral hepatitis (liver inflammation caused by a virus) and rubella (a viral infection that used to be common in children), which can both cause pain in the joints and symptoms of a fever.
Widespread joint pain is sometimes a sign of a disease that affects almost all the organs of the body, such as:
Widespread joint pain can less commonly be caused by:
Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.