Does Joint Pain Radiate? The Complete Answer

does joint pain radiate?

Disclaimer: Initially drafted by AI, this article was edited by a human author to ensure accuracy and quality.

TL;DR ARTICLE SUMMARY

Yes, joint pain can radiate. Another name for this radiating sensation is referred pain. It sometimes happens when joint pain signals from one part of your body are sent to another part. It’s hard to predict where the pain will radiate; it mainly depends on the underlying cause. For example, arthritis in the neck could manifest in your shoulder blade, while gout in the bog toe can radiate all the way through the foot and ankle. There are many ways you can tackle radiating joint pain, which we’ll discuss in this article.

Joint Pain That Radiates

Joint pain is a common symptom today. Millions of people are suffering from joint pain that is caused by things like arthritis, injury, or overuse. If you ever had joint pain in one part of your body that seemed to radiate to another part, you experienced what’s called referred pain. [1]

Let’s learn a little more about it.

Some Fundamentals About Referred Pain

Referred pain tends to manifest as pain signals that are sent from one area of your body to another area. This is typically caused by irritated or compressed nerves. As we said, a prime example of this would be in the case of arthritis, where pain in your hip radiates down to your leg and ankle. [1]

The way you experience referred pain may not be the same as another person. It all depends on your underlying cause.

Even though referred pain is something that not everyone with arthritis or joint injury experiences, it is a problem that is typically dealt with the same way you would deal with any other arthritis symptom (more on this later).

Symptoms of radiating joint pain

As we just mentioned, symptoms of radiating pain are going to be related to other types of joint pain, whether they are caused by arthritis or injury, or overuse. Here are some common symptoms to look for:

  • Pain: This is the hallmark of radiating joint pain, which can be sharp or dull (or both).
  • Swelling: In more serious cases the painful area can swell and become tender.
  • Redness: You may notice the painful area to be warm to touch.
  • Weakness: The joint with the issue might be less stable with poor mobility.
  • Numbness or tingling: This is sometimes the result of irritated or compressed nerve.
  • Loss of range of motion: Limited flexibility is a sign it’s more serious than just mild pain.

Diagnosing Radiating Pain

The way radiating pain is diagnosed is similar to how a doctor diagnoses arthritis or a related joint condition. Tests include physical exams, looking at your medical history, and doing X-rays or MRI imaging tests to rule out other potential causes of your pain.

What causes radiating joint pain?

We touched upon this at the beginning in the article, but let’s now take a closer look at some of the most common causes of radiating joint pain.

  • Arthritis: This is an umbrella term for diseases that cause inflammation and joint pain. Any joint in the body can be affected by arthritis, but the most common ones are hands, knees, and hips, in this case radiating to other joints. [2]
  • Injury: A joint injury can lead to either acute or sadly chronic pain and inflammation, which can manifest as referred pain. For example, pain from sprained ankle can radiate to the foot or leg.
  • Overuse: This is from wear and tear of using a joint excessively for years. The typical example being marathon runners.
  • Nerve compression: This is a less common cause of radiating joint pain but it can happen when a nerve in your body is pinched or irritated. One example would be sciatica which manifests as back pain that radiates down the back of the leg.

These are the most common causes of radiating joint pain but they aren’t the only ones, mind you. Others worth mentioning include:

  • Gout: This is a specific type of arthritis that happens when uric acid crystals build up in the joints. This can lead to sudden and severe joint pain which sometimes radiates. [3]
  • Fibromyalgia: This is a chronic pain disorder that causes pain across the whole body. Referred pain points with fibromyalgia are typically neck, shoulders, and back.
  • Lyme disease: This is a disease caused by ticks after the bite. Lyme disease causes a whole host of symptoms unfortunately, one of them is joint pain which sometimes radiates to other parts of the body.

Treating Radiating Joint Pain

Okay, so how do you get rid of radiating joint pain? The treatment will depend on what the underlying cause it.

Generally, some common ways radiating joint pain can be alleviated (or completely gotten rid of depending on the cause) include:

  • Rest: Helps to reduce inflammation and pain.
  • Ice: Good for acute episodes where it diminishes inflammation and pain.
  • Heat: Sometimes instead of cooling the affected area, applying heat can be more effective to relax muscles and relieve pain.
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers: Ibuprofen or acetaminophen are two OTC painkillers that work wonders if you have an occasional referred pain, but they aren’t healthy for long-term use.
  • Prescription medications: In chronic radiating joint pain, a doctor sometimes prescribes steroids or anti-inflammatory drugs to deal with the issue long-term.
  • Physical therapy: Physical therapy strengthens your muscles around the hurting joint, improving your range of motion in the process.

There are extreme cases where surgery is necessary to get rid of radiating joint pain. This typically only happens if nothing else works. [4]

The positive news is that you can successfully bring your radiating joint symptoms to a minimum, or even completely get rid of the pain altogether, depending on the cause of your pain.

Supplements and diet

Luckily, there are also different supplements and lifestyle “hacks” that you can incorporate to relieve referred joint pain. [5] Here are a few of our favorites:

  • Glucosamine and chondroitin: These two are among the most researched joint products for rebuilding cartilage in your joints.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3s are potent inflammation quenchers that help to relieve joint pain.
  • Magnesium: Not only does it help to relax your muscles and nerves, but magnesium may also contribute to a reduction in inflammation.
  • Vitamin D: This is another essential nutrient that supports your bone health, along with reducing pain and inflammation on a cellular level.

Obviously, a healthy diet with nutritious and anti-inflammatory foods, 7-9 hours of sleep, and reducing stress are all foundations that you should have in place before considering supplements. It’s also important to keep your weight in check to lessen the load on your joints, which can lead to tremendous improvements in your joint function and health long-term.

Conclusion

Radiating joint pain is (sadly) a common symptom that has many potential underlying causes.

The first step is to find out what is causing it. Once you know that, you’ll be able to come up with the most effective strategy of tackling the pain.

Some typical recommendations from experts include rest, ice, heat, over-the-counter pain relievers, prescription medications, physical therapy, and surgery if nothing else works.

You can also significantly reduce radiating joint pain with by keeping a healthy weight, exercising daily, getting enough sleep, and taking supplements such as MSM and curcumin to fight off inflammation.

References

  1. Sakamoto J, Morimoto Y, Ishii S, Nakano J, Manabe Y, Okita M, Tsurumoto T. Investigation and macroscopic anatomical study of referred pain in patients with hip disease. J Phys Ther Sci. 2014 Feb;26(2):203-8. doi: 10.1589/jpts.26.203. Epub 2014 Feb 28. PMID: 24648632; PMCID: PMC3944289.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3944289/
  2. Senthelal S, Li J, Ardeshirzadeh S, et al. Arthritis. [Updated 2022 Jun 19]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK518992/
  3. Fenando A, Rednam M, Gujarathi R, et al. Gout. [Updated 2022 Dec 27]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK546606/
  4. Joint Pain – WebMD
    https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/joint-pain
  5. Liu X, Machado GC, Eyles JP, Ravi V, Hunter DJ. Dietary supplements for treating osteoarthritis: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med. 2018 Feb;52(3):167-175. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2016-097333. Epub 2017 Oct 10. PMID: 29018060.
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29018060/

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