Pain Relief

Understanding Leading Causes of Body Aches and Pain

By Kyra Heenan

People are increasingly turning to natural remedies for pain. This may be due to increasing drug prices or the rising cost of opioid addiction across the country. But before you decide to treat pain with something like CBD, or cannabidiol, it’s important to have a conversation with your doctor about the pain you are experiencing and the safest way to manage that issue.

To help you lead a conversation with your doctor about discomfort, we’ve collected a handful of the places people hurt and the leading causes for each type of pain. Keep in mind that this is meant to be a helpful guide—not a diagnosis.

Shoulder Pain

The shoulder is the most mobile joint in the body. While this does lead to an impressive range of motion, it also means that the shoulder is particularly prone to pains and aches. Shoulder pain can be caused by a variety of issues, including both diseases and injuries. While some of these conditions may improve naturally over time, it is important to consult with your doctor to lessen the risk of any diseases or injuries getting worse.

Leading Causes of Shoulder Pain

While there are many different factors that can influence pain in the shoulders, these are some of the most common shoulder problems that lead to shoulder pain: 

  • Tendon Tear: Tendon tears in the rotator cuff and bicep are some of the most common of this type of injury. A tendon tear occurs when the tendon partially or completely separates from the bone. A shoulder tear can be caused by a sudden injury, or by repeated movements over time. While symptoms can vary, a shoulder tear will likely lead to some degree of shoulder pain.
  • Dislocated Shoulder: Since the shoulder is the body’s most mobile joint and moves in so many different directions, it is particularly prone to dislocation. A shoulder dislocation happens when the upper arm bones comes out of the socket, which can lead to intense pain, swelling, bruising, numbness, tingling, and visible deformity.
  • Fracture: In the shoulder, a fracture, or broken bone, usually occurs in the clavicle (collarbone), humerus (upper arm bone), and/or scapula (shoulder blade). A fracture can cause shoulder pain, swelling, and bruising.
  • Tendinitis: Tendinitis happens when a tendon (which connects muscle to bone) becomes inflamed. In the shoulder, the tendons most prone to tendinitis are the four rotator cuff tendons, as well as one in the bicep. Tendinitis in the shoulder is typically caused by repetitive overuse or a sudden injury.
  • Bursitis: This condition can happen in multiple places throughout the body, including the shoulders. It affects the bursae, which are small sacs filled with fluid that cushion the bones, tendons, and muscles near the joints. The condition bursitis occurs when these bursae are inflamed. It can be caused by overuse, and the shoulder pain can make many typical daily activities difficult.
  • Impingement: Shoulder impingement happens when the acromion (the top of the shoulder blade) puts pressure on the tendon below it when the arm is lifted. This causes irritation, shoulder pain, and limited movement, and can eventually lead to tendinitis or bursitis. Repetitive movements, such as those done in construction or painting, can lead to shoulder impingement.
  • Arthritis: Shoulder pain can come from arthritis. The most common type that affects the shoulder is osteoarthritis, in which the cartilage and joint tissues break down gradually. In addition to the shoulder pain, symptoms include swelling and stiffness. Osteoarthritis develops slowly, with the pain becoming more intense as it worsens. It is often caused by sport or work injuries, or wear and tear over time.

Treatment will vary based on the disease or injury, but it can involve rest, medication, physical therapy, or surgery in more severe cases. If you suspect you have an injury like a fracture, or if anything is causing intense pain, it is important to see a doctor immediately to properly assess the issue. 

Elbow Pain

While many things can lead to elbow pain, it is often caused by overuse or injuries. From athletic activities to daily arm movements, your elbows can be prone to pain, particularly when subject to repetitive or dangerous movements. If you are experiencing elbow pain, it is important to bring your issue to your doctor for proper evaluation.

Leading Causes of Elbow Pain

Some of the top causes of elbow pain include the following:

  • Broken Arm: A break in at least one of the three bones in the arm (the ulna, radius, and humerus) can lead to elbow pain. Any snapping sound in this area will be your first indication of a broken arm, and the symptoms that will follow include swelling, bruising, deformity, severe pain, and inability to turn the arm.
  • Dislocated Elbow: A dislocated elbow will lead to elbow pain. It happens when one of the bones in the elbow gets knocked out of alignment. A variety of causes can lead to a dislocated elbow, but the most common cause is putting your hand out to catch yourself during a fall.
  • Sprains: A sprain is a stretching or tearing of a ligament, and can happen in many locations throughout the body, including the elbows. If you heard a popping noise, the ligament may have been torn rather than just stretched. Symptoms can include bruising, swelling, and pain when you move your elbow.
  • Golfer’s Elbow: This condition (also known as medial epicondylitis) is caused by repeated or excess stress on the muscles and tendons that control the wrist and fingers. The elbow pain occurs on the inside of the elbow, where the tendons of the forearms attach to the bony part. Besides golf, many activities can lead to golfer’s elbow, including weight training, racket sports, throwing sports, and occupational movements (such as movements related to carpentry or plumbing).
  • Tennis Elbow: Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is similar to golfer’s elbow, but occurs on the outside of the elbow. It is also due to repeated stress on the forearm muscles, and can lead to pain that makes it difficult to do basic functions like shaking hands or holding objects. Tennis, of course, can lead to this condition, but other repetitive arm motions can also be culpable, including those done in painting, construction, cooking (particularly when cutting meat), and computer mouse usage.
  • Bursitis: This condition can happen throughout the body, including the elbows. It affects the bursae, which are small sacs filled with fluid that cushion the bones, tendons, and muscles near the joints. Bursitis happens when these bursae are inflamed. It can be caused by overuse, but other factors also lead to the condition, including being overweight, rheumatoid arthritis, and infection.
  • Nerve Entrapment: The main arm in the nerve is called the radial nerve. When this nerve is pinched by the vertebrae or elbow joint, it can cause elbow pain, numbness, or tingling, as well as pain and weakness in the arm, particularly when the arm is stretched out. Similar sensations can happen when the ulnar nerve is pinched, which is located in the elbow area.
  • Arthritis: The main types of arthritis that can cause elbow pain are rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is the most common in the elbow. It is where the immune system attacks the healthy tissues, leading to swelling in the joints. Osteoarthritis is when the cartilage deteriorates over time. Since this cartilage cushions the bones, this leads them to rub together, causing pain and stiffness.

Treatment for elbow pain will vary based on the condition or injury, but common options include taping or bracing, anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving medication, targeted exercises, soft tissue massage, and surgery in more severe cases. In the case of golfer’s and tennis elbow, athletes can prevent the conditions by using proper lifting, throwing, or hitting techniques. Proper warm-ups will also help fight against these conditions.

Wrist Pain

Wrist pain can be caused by a variety of factors and diseases. Sudden injuries often lead to wrist pain, but diseases and long-term aggravation can also cause issues. The severity of wrist pain can vary greatly, and while not all wrist pain requires medical attention, it is often best to seek the advice and diagnosis of a doctor to lessen the risk of a complicated healing process.

Leading Causes of Wrist Pain

While there are many causes that can lead to wrist pain, these are some of the most common culprits:

  • Fractures: Unsurprisingly, fractures (a break in a bone) in the wrist are one of the top causes of wrist pain. A fracture can lead to stiffness, swelling, and a loss of movement. There are multiple types of fractures, and the severity of the fracture determines the necessary treatment. The types of fractures include simple (the break is stable and aligned), complex (the break has caused the bone to shift), comminuted (there is a break in more than one spot), and compound (the broken bone has broken through the skin).
  • De Quervain’s Tendinitis: This form of tendinitis is due to repetitive stress that inflames the tendons at the base of the thumb, causing pain, swelling, and weakness along the wrist, thumb, and forearm. The wrist pain may develop gradually, or it may start suddenly. De Quervain’s tendinitis makes it painful to do normal hand motions, like making a fist, holding something, or turning your wrist.
  • Arthritis: Arthritis is another cause for wrist pain. Osteoarthritis in the wrist happens when the cartilage at the end of the bones deteriorates, which leads to inflammation in the wrist. It is typically more common in people who have a record of wrist injuries. Rheumatoid arthritis in the wrist occurs when the body’s own immune system attacks the tissue and breaks it down. Typically, this type of arthritis will happen in both wrists.
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: This incredibly common condition can also cause wrist pain. It develops when there is an increase in pressure on a nerve. This pressure can cause pain, weakness, and a numbing sensation in the wrist, palm, forearm, and fingers (particularly the thumb, middle finger, and index finger). People who are obese or have diabetes or arthritis have a higher risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome. Repetitive movement can also be the cause of the syndrome and associated wrist pain.
  • Ganglion Cysts: These cysts are generally harmless, but can cause wrist pain. They most commonly occur on the back of the wrist. A ganglion will grow out of the tissues surrounding a joint, and is filled with fluid. They can vary in size, and often will grow larger if aggravated by wrist activity. The exact cause of ganglion cysts is not known, but they seem to occur when the tissue around a joint or tendon bulges out of place.
  • Kienbock’s Disease: This disease is most common in young adults. It occurs when the blood supply to the lunate bone (one of the eight small bones in the wrist) is cut off or lessened, leading to the collapse of the bone. This damage to the bone can lead to wrist pain, as well as stiffness and even arthritis over time. Since many factors lead to this disease, it can be hard to narrow down to one single cause. Certain factors that influence it include blood supply, drainage, and variations in skeletal structure.

Of course, it is impossible to completely prevent any accident that can lead to sudden wrist injuries, but there are a few preventative steps you can take to protect the wrist. These include building up bone strength (through methods like taking calcium supplements), using protective gear during physical activities, and taking breaks during long periods of typing at the computer.

Pain Behind the Knee

The knee is a complex joint, and many people are prone to experiencing some sort of pain in the area. It is comprised of bones, muscles, tendons, cartilage, and ligaments, all of which can be aggravated by certain aggressors.

Pain behind the knee is a common complaint amongst patients, and it can be caused by a variety of issues. While injuries may be the most common culprit, certain diseases may also lead to problems in this area. Behind the knee pain can range in intensity, and most often requires doctor evaluation in order to properly treat it.

Leading Causes of Pain Behind the Knee

There are many injuries and diseases that can cause pain behind the knee, as well as a multitude of other symptoms that can accompany it, so it important to have any issues properly evaluated by your doctor. Some of the most common causes include:

  • Popliteal Cyst: A popliteal cyst (also referred to as a Baker’s cyst) is a common cause of pain behind the knee. Throughout the body, there are “bursa”: fluid-filled sacs that lubricate and provide cushioning to different parts of the body as it moves. A Baker’s cyst occurs when a popliteal bursa (a bursa behind the knee) becomes inflamed. This cyst can cause pain and may result in a decreased range of motion (although it can be painless in some people).
  • Arthritis: Two primary types of arthritis can lead to pain behind the knee. Osteoarthritis refers to the natural wear and tear of the knee joint, where the cartilage that provides cushioning deteriorates. Rheumatoid arthritis refers to the inflammation in the knee joint. It is an autoimmune disease in which the synovial lining of the joints is attacked by the immune system. Rheumatoid arthritis typically involves both knees, whereas osteoarthritis may only involve one.
  • Meniscus Tear: The meniscus is a c-shaped piece of cartilage, located on either side of each knee. The meniscus cartilage provides cushioning and absorbs shock between the bones and the joints in the knees, and the tearing of this cartilage can lead to pain behind the knee and/or all over the knee. This injury can occur from a sudden twist or over-flex of the knee, or from overuse over a longer period of time.
  • Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injury: The ACL is a band of tissue that connects the bones and keeps the joint stable. An ACL injury most commonly happens when there is a sudden stop, slow down, or change in direction when running. After an ACL tear, the knee will swell up, and it will be difficult to walk or fully move the knee.
  • Posterior Cruciate Ligament Injury: The PCL provides stability to the back of the knee. While not as common as other knee issues like an ACL injury, it can happen when there is a strong force against the front of the knee, or when the knee is overextended. PCL injuries can cause swelling, stiffness, and trouble walking.

An MRI, X-ray, ultrasound, blood test, and/or discussion of medical history may be needed in order to properly diagnose pain behind the knee. Treatment will depend on the disease or injury and if there are any underlying issues that need to be addressed. Treatment methods range from PRICE (protection, rest, ice, compression, elevation), medication to reduce inflammation, physical therapy, a knee brace, and/or surgery.

Talk to Your Doctor

If you are experiencing pain, talk to a healthcare professional. This round-up of common types of pain and possible causes for that pain is meant to help you start a conversation with your doctor—it’s not meant to diagnose or treat any condition.

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