Chronic joint pain refers to discomfort in a joint that lasts for a prolonged period of time. A person may experience chronic joint pain due to many different reasons, such as arthritis, Still’s disease, fibromyalgia, and gout.

Joints are points in the body where bones make contact, which typically allows for movement. Due to the number of components around a joint and the stress it may experience, many different conditions can result in chronic joint pain. Medical professionals often refer to pain as chronic if it lasts for longer than 3 months.

In this article, we explain what a joint is and list a number of potential causes of chronic joint pain.

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Joints are points in the body where two bones make contact. Most of these joints are mobile, allowing the bones to move. The body has three main types of joints:

  • Fibrous: Fibrous joints are often immovable, fixed joints. Examples of fibrous joints include the joints between the plates in the skull, the joints between the bones in the lower part of the arms and the legs, and the joints between the teeth.
  • Cartilaginous: Cartilaginous joints are a type of joint where cartilage holds the bones together. These joints are slightly mobile and allow a small amount of movement. The joint between the right and left pubic bone is an example of a cartilaginous joint.
  • Synovial: Synovial joints allow the most movement and ensure the limbs and other body parts can move. These joints have a cavity containing synovial fluid, which allows the bones within the joint to move freely. The knee, hip, elbow, and shoulder are all examples of synovial joints.

There are several medical conditions that may cause a person to experience chronic joint pain. They can include:


Arthritis is a term that describes over 100 conditions that affect a person’s joints. It commonly causes joint inflammation, which can cause a person to experience joint pain.

Common symptoms of arthritis include:

  • joint swelling
  • joint pain
  • joint stiffness
  • a diminished range of motion in joints

A person’s arthritis symptoms can vary from mild to severe, and they may also come and go. Symptoms may remain the same for years, but they may also worsen over time. If a person has severe arthritis, they may experience chronic pain, which can make it difficult for them to perform daily activities.

Osteoarthritis (OA)

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis. It affects over 32.5 million adults in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). OA occurs when the cartilage in a person’s joints wears down, causing the bones within the joint to rub together.

This can cause a person to experience the following symptoms:

  • joint pain
  • joint stiffness
  • joint swelling
  • difficulty moving the affected joint
  • joint warmth and tenderness
  • loss of muscle bulk

A person’s joint pain and stiffness may become worse after a period where they have not moved the joint for a while. OA is more common in older people and most commonly affects people over 50 years old.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease. It occurs when a person’s immune system does not function properly, causing it to attack the lining of a person’s joints. This lining is known as the synovium. When the immune system mistakenly attacks the synovium, it causes joint inflammation and pain.

Common symptoms of RA include:

  • joint pain
  • joint tenderness
  • joint swelling
  • joint stiffness
  • morning stiffness that lasts for 30 minutes or longer

RA commonly affects more than one joint and often affects the same joints on both sides of the body. It commonly affects the smaller joints first, such as wrists and certain joints in the hands and feet.


Gout is a common form of inflammatory arthritis. It develops in people who have high levels of uric acid in their body. High uric acid levels can cause needle-like crystals to form. These crystals can lodge in joints, causing a person to experience severe joint pain and joint swelling.

Common symptoms of gout include:

  • intense joint pain
  • joint swelling
  • joint redness
  • joints that are warm to the touch

Gout’s symptoms commonly appear in flares that begin suddenly and may last for days or weeks. The body produces uric acid when it breaks down purines. Purines are present in a number of foods, including:

  • red meat
  • organ meat
  • some seafood
  • alcohol


The bursa is a small fluid-filled sac that acts as a cushion between the bones and muscle, skin, or tendon.

Bursitis is the medical term for the inflammation of the bursa. Bursitis can cause a person to experience swelling, pain, and tenderness in areas around a joint. They may also find it painful to move the joint and can find it difficult to move the joint fully.

Bursitis pain can occur suddenly or may last for a longer period of time. It can also occur in the same parts of the body more than once. Bursitis commonly affects the:

  • shoulder
  • elbow
  • hip
  • buttocks
  • knees
  • calf

People who are more likely to develop bursitis include:

  • athletes
  • older adults
  • people who do repetitive movements, such as manual laborers and musicians

Still’s disease

Still’s disease is a rare inflammatory disorder that has a prevalence of 1–34 cases per 1 million people.

Still’s disease causes inflammation that can affect a person’s joints. It can cause a person to experience the following symptoms:

  • fever
  • a pinkish rash on the skin
  • joint pain
  • joint stiffness
  • muscle aches and pains
  • sore throat
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • an enlarged spleen

Most cases of the disease begin when a person is 16–35 years old. However, people can develop Still’s disease in adulthood.

Bone cancer

Bone cancer is a rare form of cancer that begins when cells in the bone begin to grow out of control.

Primary bone cancer occurs when the cancer starts in a person’s bones. Secondary bone cancer develops in other parts of the body and then spreads to the bones. Primary bone cancer is very rare. Most bone cancer cases are due to cancer that has spread to the bones from another part of the body.

Bone cancer can affect any bone, including the bones in the joints. This can cause a person to experience chronic bone pain in their joints. Common symptoms of bone cancer include:

  • bone pain
  • persistent or unusual swelling in or near a bone
  • the presence of a lump in the arms, legs, chest, or pelvis
  • fever
  • bones that break for no reason


Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that causes a person to experience body-wide pain and fatigue. People often confuse fibromyalgia with arthritis because it can cause chronic pain in the joints, muscles, and the body’s soft tissues.

Common symptoms of fibromyalgia include:

  • pain and stiffness all over the body
  • fatigue
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • problems sleeping
  • problems with thinking, memory, and concentration
  • headaches

The symptoms of fibromyalgia are not life threatening, but they can make it difficult for the person to carry out daily tasks.


The thyroid gland is a small gland that is present in the front of the neck. It produces thyroid hormones that control the way the body uses energy.

Hypothyroidism is the medical name for an underactive thyroid. It occurs when the thyroid gland does not make enough of the thyroid hormones to meet the body’s requirements.

Without the right amount of thyroid hormones, many of the body’s functions can slow down. One common symptom of hypothyroidism is joint pain. Other symptoms of hypothyroidism include:

  • fatigue
  • weight gain
  • trouble dealing with a common cold
  • muscle pain
  • dry skin
  • dry, thinning hair
  • heavy or irregular menstrual periods
  • fertility problems
  • slow heart rate
  • depression

If a person is experiencing chronic joint pain, it is advisable that they consult a doctor immediately. It is important that a person receives a diagnosis quickly as early treatment can help prevent complications.

For example, the CDC states that an early diagnosis is important for RA. The CDC states that treatment should begin within 6 months of onset to help stop the disease from progressing and causing joint damage.

Early treatment is also important for hypothyroidism. This is because severe untreated hypothyroidism can lead to a myxedema coma. This is an extreme form of hypothyroidism where the body’s functions slow so much, it becomes a life threatening situation.

Chronic joint pain usually refers to discomfort in the joints that lasts longer than 3 months. There are many possible causes of chronic joint pain. Some common causes of chronic joint pain may include:

  • OA
  • RA
  • gout
  • bursitis
  • Still’s disease
  • fibromyalgia
  • bone cancer
  • hypothyroidism

If a person experiences chronic joint pain, they should contact a healthcare professional.

Early diagnosis and treatment can be important in treating some of these conditions as it can help prevent complications.