Joint and osteoarthritic pain: Causes

Woman holding back

Understand joint pain and osteoarthritis

Joint pain may be acute or chronic and be associated with a multitude of possible aetiologies.1–3

Here we review some of the potential causes of pain emanating from joint tissues.

Woman holding back

Osteoarthritis is the most common cause of worsening joint pain4,5

Osteoarthritis is characterised by structural changes within the whole joint – as caused by a multitude of pathogenic factors6–8

  • Mechanical: changes in cartilage composition increase its susceptablility to force-induced erosions
  • Metabolic: activation of cell-signalling pathways in response to damage leads to further joint degradation
  • Inflammatory: metabolic activity initiates a proinflammatory response

This complex process ultimately leads to structural destruction and failure of the synovial joint.8

Man with knee pain

Other conditions may also cause joint pain

Aside from osteoarthritis, a range of conditions can cause joint pain. Acute joint pain, for example, may arise from soft-tissue injuries such as sprains and strains, or overuse injuries or infection.2,3,9 Chronic joint pain however, may be associated with conditions such as tendonitis, bursitis or various forms of arthritis.2–4,10

Soft-tissue injuries are a common cause of acute joint pain. These can include sprains occurring during sports, and overuse injuries.9

Risk factors for osteoarthritis

Woman holding her knee

Certain risk factors for osteoarthritis are known

Although the exact cause of osteoarthritis is unknown, certain factors increase its risk:8,11–13

  • Older age
  • Being female
  • Increased body weight (particularly affects the knees)
  • Family history of osteoarthritis or bone abnormalities
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Injury or overuse of joints (e.g. in athletes)
  • Previous joint trauma (particularly affects the knees)
  • Muscle weakness

Understanding joint pain and osteoarthritis

Signs and symptoms icon

Signs and symptoms

Explore an overview of how to recognise joint pain and osteoarthritis and know when to refer patients.


Management icon


Learn how joint pain and osteoarthritis can be managed.


Sprains and strains icon

Overview of sprains and strains

Find out about how common sprains and strains are, and meet two patients with these problems.


Learn more

Voltaren Triple Effect 1.16% Emulgel

Voltaren Triple Effect 1.16% Emulgel for joint pain and osteoarthritis

Up to 8 hours of relief from joint pain.14


Panadol Extend

Panadol Extend

Provides immediate release and pain relief up to 8 hours.15,16


Patient care resources icon

Patient care resources

Access a leaflet for your patients which can help them understand the causes of joint pain and how best to treat it.