Joints are places in your body where two bones come together, such as your wrists, elbows, shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles.
Joints also exist where you might not think. For example, there are joints between the many bones in your feet, hands, pelvis, and spine.
Injuries cause most joint pain involving one joint
Other causes include joint infections Infectious Arthritis Arthritis is inflammation in a joint. There are many types of arthritis. Infectious arthritis is arthritis caused by a bacterial infection in a joint. Your joint can get infected if another... read more , osteoarthritis Osteoarthritis (OA) Arthritis is a group of diseases that makes your joints hurt, swell up, and turn red. There are many different types of arthritis. Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. In osteoarthritis... read more , or gout Gout If you have gout, your body makes too much uric acid. Uric acid forms normally as your body breaks down old cells and makes new cells. In gout, the uric acid forms into crystals that sometimes... read more
See a doctor right away if you have sudden joint pain with swelling
What causes pain in a single joint?
Pain in just one joint usually has different causes than pain in many joints Joint Pain: Many Joints Joints are places in your body where two bones come together, such as your wrists, elbows, shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles. Joints also exist where you might not think, such as between the... read more .
At all ages, the most common cause of sudden pain in one joint is:
If you haven't been injured, the most common causes depend on your age.
Among young adults:
Joint infections are often caused by gonorrhea Gonorrhea Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). An STI is an infection that is spread from person to person by sexual contact. Gonorrhea infects your genitals and, in women, your fallopian... read more that has spread through the body. Other germs, such as those in a nearby skin infection Cellulitis Cellulitis is characterized by red, warm areas on the skin. Sometimes blisters form. Cellulitis is a bacterial infection in your skin. Cellulitis is a common skin infection that can spread quickly... read more or boil (abscess Folliculitis and Skin Abscesses This photo shows infected, inflamed hair follicles caused by a bacterial infection. A hair follicle is where a hair grows out from your skin. Folliculitis is inflammation or infection in a hair... read more ) also can cause joint infections.
Among older adults:
Gout Gout If you have gout, your body makes too much uric acid. Uric acid forms normally as your body breaks down old cells and makes new cells. In gout, the uric acid forms into crystals that sometimes... read more or pseudogout Calcium Pyrophosphate (CPP) Arthritis Calcium pyrophosphate (CPP) arthritis (previously called pseudogout) is a disorder caused by deposits of calcium pyrophosphate dihydrate crystals in the joint cartilage, leading to intermittent... read more
Less common causes of pain in one joint include:
Osteonecrosis is when bone dies and collapses. Bone can die as a result of serious injury (such as a broken hip) or as a side effect of some medicines (such as corticosteroids).
When should I see a doctor?
See a doctor right away if you have pain in one joint and any of these warning signs:
Sudden or severe pain
Joint redness, warmth, swelling, or stiffness
Broken, red, warm, or tender skin near the joint
You have a bleeding disorder Bruising and Bleeding Bruising or bleeding after an injury is normal. However, some people have blood clotting disorders that cause them to bruise or bleed too easily, such as after very minor injuries or even no... read more , use blood thinners, or have sickle cell disease Sickle Cell Disease Sickle cell disease is a lifelong problem with your red blood cells. It's something you’re born with that causes some of your red blood cells to be unusually shaped. Instead of being shaped... read more
Signs of sudden illness other than joint pain
Call a doctor after several days if you have mild joint pain that doesn’t stop on its own.
What will happen at my doctor’s visit?
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history and do a physical exam.
Doctors may do tests such as:
Tests of joint fluid—doctors take fluid out of your joint with a needle and test the fluid for signs of infection or gout
Imaging tests Tests for Musculoskeletal Disorders A doctor can often diagnose a musculoskeletal disorder based on the history and the results of a physical examination. Laboratory tests, imaging tests, or other diagnostic procedures are sometimes... read more , usually x-rays, but sometimes MRI or CT scan
Rarely, blood tests
How do doctors treat joint pain?
Doctors will treat the cause of your pain. For example, if you have a bone fracture, doctors may put your joint in a cast. If you have a joint infection, they will give you antibiotics and often do surgery to drain the infection.
Doctors may also treat your joint pain with:
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or acetaminophen
A splint or sling
Applying heat or cold—sometimes doctors will have you alternate heat and cold
After your joint pain is better, doctors sometimes prescribe physical therapy Physical Therapy (PT) Physical therapy, a component of rehabilitation, involves exercising and manipulating the body with an emphasis on the back, upper arms, and legs. It can improve joint and muscle function, helping... read more . Physical therapy prevents and treats joint stiffness Joint Stiffness Joints are places in your body where two bones come together, such as your wrists, elbows, shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles. Joints also exist where you might not think. For example, there... read more and strengthens the muscles around the joint.