What is the cause of joint pain?

Joint pain can be caused by many different injuries or conditions. Here are some causes of joint pain.

Overuse, stress or direct trauma to the joint

Injuries due to overuse, stress (e.g., ankle sprain) and trauma are common causes of joint pain, particularly in the knee, elbow and wrist, especially for people who participate in sports regularly. Most knee injuries are due to overuse, particularly in athletes who specialise in running and jumping sports such as basketball, volleyball, and soccer.

In addition, people who work in physically demanding jobs, e.g., carrying heavy loads, may experience symptoms of joint pain. Jobs with lifting, repetition, and awkward positions can cause tension overload and stress on your upper joints, leading to elbow, wrist, and shoulder pain.

Infection and inflammation

Some viruses invade joints, which stimulates the immune system to respond with inflammation. Pain may be associated with joint inflammation.

A doctor may diagnose joint pain that is due to infection. Occasionally viruses can invade joints, leading to an immune response resulting in joint inflammation and associated pain. Only a doctor is able to diagnose if symptoms of joint pain are associated with infection.


Osteoarthritis is the most common cause of pain in older adults, and can affect multiple joints including the knees, hips and fingers. Symptoms of joint pain in osteoarthritis are often accompanied by stiffness, reduced function, swelling, tiredness and muscle weakness.

It is often viewed as a normal part of ageing with many older people seeing themselves as healthy despite having joint pain. Ageing changes cartilage and other joint tissues, as well as bone and fat, which all play a role in the development of osteoarthritis and the loss of normal joint function. However, other factors can also increase your risk of developing osteoarthritis, including obesity and it is more common in women than men.

Underlying conditions

Joint pain can be a symptom for other underlying conditions. A doctor can perform tests to diagnose the cause of your joint pain.

A doctor will perform tests to detect the possibility of an underlying condition being the cause of your joint pain.

Top tips for joint pain relief

When your joints are aching, here are some tips that might bring you relief:

  • Self-care:avoid moving your joint in ways that worsen the pain. A physiotherapist may recommend using heat therapy for pain relief. Massage may also help to relieve muscle spasm and facilitate stretching.
  • Weight management: try to maintain a healthy weight to reduce stress on your joints.
  • Stay active: regular, appropriate exercise, as well as stretching and strengthening exercises can help with causes of joint pain like arthritis. Speak to your physiotherapist or doctor if you’re unsure what exercises you should do.
  • Relieve the pain: taking a pain reliever like Nurofen can provide temporary relief from joint pain and inflammation. You can also try a medicated dermal patch like Nurofen Duralast, which is applied to the skin to provide targeted relief.

If you’re over 65 years, taking other medicines, have other medical conditions or allergies, or are pregnant, seek advice from your healthcare professional before taking Nurofen.


When to see your doctor

See your doctor if you develop sudden pain or swelling in the joint, if you’re unable to use the joint, or if your joint pain or symptoms persist for more than a few days.* Also see your doctor if you are concerned about your joint pain for any reason.