Aging is commonly associated with the development of various medical conditions, some of which can influence our quality of life. One of the most frequent ailments reported among older adults involves joint pain. The occurrence of joint pain is often coupled with joint stiffness and sharp pain, making it difficult to walk, stand, and bend. In addition, the quality of sleep can also be affected by joint stiffness. In some cases, these are accompanied by sharp pain, especially when making sudden turns or shifts with our body.
Joint stiffness, joint pain, and sharp pain are symptoms of several musculoskeletal conditions and thus it would be enlightening to understand and differentiate one medical disorder from another. Osteoarthritis commonly affects older adults, with joint stiffness and joint pain generally occurring in the knees and lower back. Osteoarthritis is also associated with sharp pain, especially when putting pressure and movement on these specific joints. In addition, osteoarthritis generally afflicts individuals who are overweight or obese.
On the other hand, rheumatoid arthritis presents with joint stiffness and joint pain in the hands and feet. Similar to osteoarthritis, sharp pain can also occur from repeated use of the hands during work and daily routine chores. Interestingly, certain individuals are more susceptible in developing rheumatoid arthritis, based on genetic and environmental factors. Mutations in the genes HLA-DR4, PTPN22, and PAD14 have been reported to be associated with an increased likelihood of developing rheumatoid arthritis. In terms of environmental factors, smoking and bacterial infections have also been linked to an increase in chances of developing rheumatoid arthritis. Furthermore, there are twice as many women suffering from joint stiffness and joint pain of rheumatoid arthritis, as compared to men.
Joint stiffness, joint pain, and sharp pain are also symptoms of fibromyalgia, which is a chronic syndrome that is often coupled with general fatigue, persistent headache, and loss of memory. The main difference of fibromyalgia from forms of arthritis is that this is mainly based on a capacity of an individual to process pain through the central nervous system. It has lately been reported that nerve cells of fibromyalgia patients are hyperactive, thus the brain continuously sends excitable signals to the rest of the body, lowering the threshold for sharp pain.
The existence of any of these three medical conditions can still be managed through the help of medications and changes in lifestyle. More importantly, there are several ways of delaying the progression of the disorder and thus certain measures can result in better bone health. In the case of osteoarthritis, losing weight can significantly reduce the chances of further disability, as the knees would be supporting less weight. Exercise has also been regarded as another preventive measure for joint stiffness and joint pain. There are also over-the-counter analgesics to reduce sharp pain in the joints, including paracetamol, ibuprofen, and naproxen sodium. Regular corticosteroid injections to frequent sites of sharp pain can also alleviate the symptoms of osteoarthritis.
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For rheumatoid arthritis, analgesics can also be equally effective for the treatment of sharp pain in the joints. Stronger painkillers can also be prescribed, such as cyclo-oxygenase-2 inhibitors (COX-2). In addition, there are also anti-rheumatic medications that can slow down the deterioration of the joints, thus relieving joint stiffness and joint pain. These include methotrexate, which prevents continuous erosion of the tissues in the joints. This drug may be quite strong for certain individuals and thus is often prescribed together with folic acid, which decreases the impact of methotrexate’s side effects. Intake of omega-3 fatty acids as a dietary supplement can also lessen joint stiffness and joint pain. It is thus important to know exactly what medical condition is causing the sharp pain in your joints, in order to take the necessary measures in preventing further deterioration of your bone health.