When to Seek Medical Treatment for Joint Pain: Warning Signs to Watch For

Sometimes it could be hard to distinguish between a general ache and severe pain, with the latter indicating that something is wrong and requires immediate attention. When your joint hurts, it can be tricky to understand whether you must seek an effective treatment plan. Joint pain, also medically termed arthralgia, is a discomfort or painful experience.

Most joint pains are harmless and will resolve independently within a few days. However, certain cases require long-term treatment, which might interfere with your day-to-day activities. 

That’s why knowing when to seek medical treatment for joint pain is important. In detail below, read more about these treatments and when to seek medical treatment.

Types of Joint Pain

It is not unusual to suffer from joint pain occasionally, especially if you participate in high-impact activities like running. However, you must learn about the types of joint pain to get an effective and tailor-made treatment. Below are two types of joint pain discussed in detail.

  • Acute Joint Pain

This type of joint pain is caused by an identifiable source linked with tissue damage, inflammation or certain diseases. Acute pain usually lasts for a few days or weeks. Simply put, acute joint pain serves as a protective prospect, indicating the need for rest to the person.

  • Chronic Joint Pain

Chronic joint pain tends to last long beyond the expected healing time frame, which could be 6 to 12 months. For instance, as a rule of thumb, a wrist sprain should be healed within a week or a maximum of two weeks. If your wrist still hurts 4 to 6 weeks after the injury, the pain is chronic and requires immediate medical attention. 

Warning Signs

According to several studies, joint pain is the classic and common symptom diagnosed in all types of arthritis. The sharp pain becomes chronic over time if left unchecked. Below are some tell-tale signs signalling it’s time to seek medical treatment.

  • Redness and Warmth in the Joint

When the joint pain is caused by a sudden injury or accident, you might notice redness on the skin around the affected joint regions. You can also feel the warmth in the injured area due to the inflammation or broken bones.

  • Swelling and Stiffness in the Joint

You might have stiffness in your joints, especially after you have been inactive for a long time or when you wake up in the morning. 

The stiffness will last for at least 30 minutes. In contrast, due to the wear and tear of cartilage, the bones come in direct contact with each other, putting more stress on the joints and causing the production of excess fluid. It results in pain and swelling of the joint.

  • Loss of Range of Motion in the Joint

Some individuals with joint pain often experience limited or loss of range of motion and increased risk of falls and injuries. Injuries or damage to tendons, bones, muscles and ligaments hampers your mobility and flexibility by associating with stiffness and swelling.

When to Seek Medical Treatment

Joint pain usually doesn’t require immediate medical intervention. Still, proper diagnosis is essential for improved quality of life. Here’s when and how to make an appointment with your healthcare professional.

  • Immediate Medical Attention

You must seek immediate medical care if you experience abrupt joint pain or swelling that causes immobility or physical deformity. Similarly, you must consult a medical specialist if your joints appear red, warm, or sensitive. Seeking medical attention promptly after experiencing joint pain can prevent further damage.

  • Seeing a Doctor Within a Few Days/ Weeks

For mild pain, you may be able to alleviate your symptoms through self-care. Applying an ice or heat pack to the affected area for 20 minutes can help relax your muscles, decrease swelling, and enhance blood flow. Taking a break from activities that exacerbate your discomfort may also help minimize pain.

If you are experiencing joint pain or discomfort, resting the affected joint can help to alleviate your symptoms. Sometimes, it may be possible to address the issue at your next appointment, which could occur within a few weeks.

Medical Conditions Causing Joint Pain

  • Arthritis

Arthritis is an inflammatory condition involving a group of joint diseases. Two types of arthritis impact your joint pain – Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis. 

Osteoarthritis affects the cartilage, which serves as the shock absorber for bones, causing hindrance of mobility. The condition impacts joints in the hands, knees and hips and is observed in ages over 40. Rheumatoid arthritis is prominently diagnosed in men due to the gradual joint deformation, causing inflammation and fluid retention. 

  • Bursitis

Bursitis is another inflammation condition commonly diagnosed in the major joint regions. The bursae will be accumulated with fluids and result in inflammation. 

  • Tendinitis

Tendinitis results from irritation in the tendons or thick fibrous tissues attached to the bone to the muscles. 

Treatment Options for Joint Pain

  • Medications

Joint pain can be cured by medication when it’s in the initial stage and has no underlying reason. Inflammation caused by joint pain can usually be relieved by non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drugs. In contrast, acetaminophen is prescribed to treat joint pain with inflammation. Antibiotics are suggested in case of septic arthritis.

  • Physical Therapy

After the pain and inflammation have been lessened, the doctor might recommend doing physical therapy to regain or restore your range of motion by strengthening the muscles. Individuals with chronic pain need to manage their joint movements and prevent stiffness in joints and loss of muscles. 

  • Surgery

Surgery is only recommended when the patient doesn’t show any improvements in their symptoms and still experiences nagging joint pain. In the severe or last stage of the condition, joint replacement surgery is considered to remove the affected joints with the artificial one. 


Joint pain might affect a single joint or multiple joints, and the pattern of which and how many joints are affected depends on the root cause of the problems. Therefore you don’t need to rush to your physician if the pain is mild or infrequent, but mention it to them at your next check-up schedule. 

On the other hand, if you have pain that lasts longer weeks or several episodes, ensure to seek immediate medical assistance. In a nutshell, when it comes to joint pain treatment, a combination of advanced treatments with a personalized approach will keep your joints healthy and in optimal condition for a long time.

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