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Arthritis? Joint Symptoms You Can't Ignore (and Ones You Can)

Not all joint symptoms are arthritis symptoms. A Johns Hopkins arthritis expert shares clues about what your joints are trying to tell you.

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Research Shows
New Hope for an Arthritis Cure

Johns Hopkins researchers report that worn cartilage is not the only culprit in the development of osteoarthritis (OA)—an overgrowth of bone beneath the cartilage wear down the cartilage faster, until eventually the ends of the bones rub together with no cushioning. Testing their theory in mice with an anterior cruciate ligament tear, an injury that can lead to arthritis, researchers found that damaged bone beneath the cartilage triggered a bone-building protein to form new bone. Blocking the action of that protein stopped extra bone growth and prevented further cartilage destruction. “Our results are potentially really good news for patients with OA,” says Xu Cao, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Musculoskeletal Research. Next up: a clinical trial in humans. If the same result is seen, we will be closer to a medical treatment for arthritis.

Knees, elbows, fingers, wrists, ankles—your body is full of places where your bones connect to one another. And at these intersections, just like the ones on the road, things can go wrong, from injury to arthritis or other diseases.

How can you know? Watch for these joint symptoms.

Pain at night.

Often, pain associated with an irritated joint is well tolerated when your joints are at work during the day. “But if it wakes you up at night, that tends to be a clue that there’s something more serious going on,” says Johns Hopkins rheumatologist Rebecca Manno, M.D., M.H.S.

Swelling, redness and/or warmth.

Joint swelling, redness in the area, or a section of skin that’s unusually warm to the touch are all signs of inflammation that could be due to arthritis, infection or another cause, Manno says.

Morning stiffness that takes hours to wear off.

“Many people feel a little stiff in the morning as they get older,” Manno says. “If it lasts less than 30 minutes and eases as you get moving, that’s not too worrisome. But if it doesn’t disappear until after lunch or later, that’s a sign there’s something more going on.”

Pain that just doesn’t go away.

As with stiffness, if you feel something “off” that lasts and lasts, it’s worth getting it checked. Discomfort that comes and goes is less concerning.

Joint pain plus coincidental symptoms. 

Fever? Rash? Mouth sores? New symptoms are red flags when they coincide with a bothersome joint—even if they don’t seem connected. Recent travel or insect bites and stings are other seeming coincidences worth mentioning to your doctor.   

Pain strong enough to change your everyday habits.

Are you avoiding certain stores to save steps? Skipping activities you enjoy? “People create workarounds. Adapting is OK for a day or so if you turn your ankle. But if you’re still doing it a month later, something’s not right,” Manno says.

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