What Causes Arthritis Pain?

Pain signals that something is wrong in the body. Here’s what causes pain in arthritis and basic treatments that may help soothe the pain.


Pain is a symptom like a fever or a rash. Pain informs you that there is a problem in your body, so you can address the issue and take steps to heal it. It is a natural protective response of your body to a threat within.

Causes of Arthritis Pain

With arthritis and related diseases, pain is usually felt in the joints. It can be dull, sharp, burning, or a tight feeling that could only be described as having a boa constrictor squeezing one of your joints.

The joint pain can be caused by the following:

  • inflammation of the tissues in the joint (rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis);
  • depletion of cartilage and lubricating fluid in the joint, resulting in the bones rubbing against one another with every movement (osteoarthritis);
  • buildup of uric acid crystals in the joint, causing inflammation (gout).

Acute and Chronic Arthritis Pain

Acute pain can last a short time. It can be from a few seconds, after a person burns or injures himself, to a few weeks, as in a back strain that goes away with basic treatments. It’s a short-term problem and will go away. Acute pain is treated mainly with pain-relieving drugs, like analgesics,opioids or NSAIDs. In arthritis and related diseases, acute pain is experienced during flares when the disease is most active.

Chronic pain is longer-lasting, occurring persistently or regularly for at least three to six months. Some chronic pain lasts for a lifetime. Most arthritis pain is chronic. In rheumatoid and other inflammatory types of arthritis, it is caused by the ongoing inflammation that is a result of the immune system attacking the body’s own tissues. In osteoarthritis, it is a result of the mechanical damage to the affected bones.

Arthritis Pain Treatment

The treatment depends on the cause. Inflammatory arthritis diseases are treated with DMARDs (such as methotrexate) and biologics, which calm down the immune system. This may help ease the pain. Long-term use of anti-inflammatory pain relievers, like ibuprofen or naproxen, is often needed. In addition, chronic pain is often treated with analgesics and, in extreme cases, certain opioids.

Over time, chronic pain produces changes in the brain. These neurological changes make the pain more and more rooted, and harder to treat. Over time, because of ongoing inflammation and damage caused by arthritis, it is hard for the body to turn off the pain response. This causes ongoing pain even once the underlying issue as been resolved. Drugs that help maintain chemical balance in the brain may help ease this kind of pain. These include antidepressants and anticonvulsants, which are often used to treat chronic pain of fibromyalgia.

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