Common symptoms and possible causes
Aches, pains, cramps, and creaks… from athletes, weekend warriors, and busy parents to sedentary coach potatoes and the otherwise unmotivated, everyone experiences pain now and then. Bodily pains can be an underworked or overworked body’s way of saying “Hey, I need some help here!” or “I’m sick!” For your peace of mind—and peace of body as well—don’t rely on “Dr. Google” to help you perform a DIY diagnosis and treatment. Visit your physician when you experience persistent or severe aches and pains, or that cause concern for any reason.
A Few Common Culprits
Over 54 million people in the United States have arthritis. Lifestyle, nutrition, and genetics play a part in where arthritis occurs and when. If you suspect you have arthritis of any kind, proper medical treatment can reduce further joint damage as well as relieve pain.
There are three main types of arthritis. Osteoarthritis, a degenerative disease, occurs when the degradation of cartilage surrounding the joints causes the joint to become inflamed. Symptoms include pain, stiffness, limited mobility surrounding the joint, redness, and swelling.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disorder characterized by chronic joint pain and more. RA usually (but not always) involves multiple joints on both sides of the body. It can also affect organs, including the heart, lungs, and eyes. Common symptoms include fatigue and joint pain, stiffness, swelling, and redness. Firm, subcutaneous nodules may form on or near the base of the arthritic joint as well.
Psoriatic arthritis is an inflammation of the skin (psoriasis) and joints (arthritis). It can swell the fingers and toes, and those who have it may have fingernails that are pitted or discolored, too. In some people, only one joint or a few joints are affected.
Muscle Inflammation (myositis)
Symptoms include weakness, swelling, and pain. Causes include infection, injury, autoimmune conditions, and drug side effects. Overuse is also a common trigger of temporary muscle inflammation, which can often be righted by giving it a break until the pain disappears.
However, injury, infections, and drug reactions can lead to rhabdomyolysis, a serious form of inflammation caused by the rapid destruction of skeletal muscle. Be aware that statin medications (cholesterol-lowering drugs) can cause rhabdomyolysis. So many people take statins that it’s important to be aware of the risk. If you begin taking a statin or are taking one and pervasive muscle aches start to occur, contact your physician immediately.
Everyone suffers from an occasional cramp, especially in the calves. Although usually harmless, cramps may be a symptom of dehydration, mineral depletion (too little potassium, calcium or magnesium in your diet, or depletion caused by diuretic medications), or nervous system dysfunction. Age also plays a role. As we lose muscle mass, the remaining muscle can get overstressed more easily, and therefore cramp up.
Stingers or Burners
Have you ever turned your neck and experienced a quick jolt of pain and heat? Stingers affect the nerves of the neck and shoulders when the two turn the opposite way, or when the body is jarred, often a result of sports activities or heavy labor. An “electrical” jolt of pain and intense heat radiates down the neck and shoulders when a stinger occurs. Sometimes this pain can creep all the way down the arm resulting in numbness. Typical treatment includes icing the affected area and some good old-fashioned rest. In addition to prolonged stinger pain, if you have any symptoms such as dizziness or loss of sensation in arms or legs, seek medical attention right away.
The Food-Inflammation Connection
A diet rich in foods that help your body fight inflammation never hurts (pun intended!), and they are usually heart-healthy, too. Dark leafy greens such as kale, chard, and spinach contain significant concentrations of vitamins and other nutrients that may help reduce chronic inflammation. Want a little something sweet? Blueberries and strawberries are high in antioxidants and great for a healthy and happy body. Bromelain, an enzyme abundant in pineapple, is considered a potent anti-inflammatory agent.
Other foods are considered prime suspects for producing or assisting inflammation, and they are typically bad for your overall health. If you’re looking to live healthier, reduce inflammation, and take better care of your body, try cutting down on red meats, refined carbohydrates (cookies, white breads, pastas), fried foods, and sugars.
When to See a Doctor
Self-treating a temporarily stiff back due to a bad night’s rest or “sitting funny” is one thing, but it’s wise to visit a medical professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment, especially when pain—whether previously diagnosed or not—starts to become chronic or suddenly turns worse. Pain can be an indicator of serious health problems—some of which are outlined in this article—and may even be a sign of cancer. Everyone has their own level of pain tolerance, but when pain lasts longer than expected or starts to affect your quality of life, get it checked by your doctor. Depending on the cause of your pain, treatments not only can relieve symptoms but minimize the risk of further damage.
By Annette Brooks