Staying hydrated helps flush toxins from the body. This can reduce inflammation and decrease friction between bones. When a person becomes dehydrated, inflammation and friction may increase discomfort around the joints.

Dehydration occurs when the body loses too much fluid. It can cause a variety of symptoms, including fatigue and headaches. A person may become dehydrated if they sweat excessively or do not consume enough fluids. People may also become dehydrated after vomiting or experiencing diarrhea.

Dehydration is common in older adults, affecting 17–28% of older adults in the United States.

People with conditions such as arthritis may experience more discomfort in their joints if they are dehydrated.

This article discusses dehydration and joint pain, including definitions, how dehydration may cause joint pain, other causes of joint pain, and treatment.

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A joint is a location in the body where two bones come together. The human body has three types of joints: fibrous, cartilaginous, and synovial.

Fibrous joints connect bones with fibrous connective tissue. These joints move little, if at all. They hold bones together without creating space between them. The joints that connect the bones of the human skull are fibrous joints.

Cartilaginous joints connect bones using cartilage, a flexible but strong tissue that lines the joints and cannot move very much. The joints that connect vertebrae in the human spine are cartilaginous.

Synovial joints create space between the connecting bones and allow for greater movement than other types of joints. The fluid inside these joints, known as synovial fluid, lubricates the joints and decreases friction. The elbows, hips, knees, and shoulders are all synovial joints.

Joint pain

Most common cases of joint pain involve the synovial joints. For example, osteoarthritis occurs as a result of damage to articular cartilage, which covers the ends of the bones in synovial joints.

Long-term damage to synovial joints can cause articular cartilage to thin or wear away. This may happen because of a person’s body weight or a sports injury. Over time, the thinning of cartilage leads to more pressure on the connected bones.

In response to this pressure, the joint creates more synovial fluid. This extra fluid causes swelling or inflammation in the joint, which leads to the pain that many people with arthritis experience.

Water makes up 60% of an adult’s body weight. If a person loses even 3% of this water content, they may experience dehydration.

The symptoms of dehydration can vary according to how dehydrated an individual is. Common symptoms include:

Certain individuals may be at higher risk of dehydration than others. Babies are more sensitive to fluid loss because of their small size. Athletes are more likely to become dehydrated after excessive sweating. Older people may not be aware of how little they are drinking and may become dehydrated.

Health conditions such as diabetes can also increase the risk of dehydration.

If an individual is showing symptoms of dehydration, it is important to act quickly. Treating dehydration before it becomes more severe can prevent serious side effects.

Adults who are mildly dehydrated should start drinking plenty of water. Babies and young children should drink rehydration solutions when they are dehydrated. These solutions are available at pharmacies and grocery stores.

Anyone showing severe signs of dehydration should see a healthcare professional. This is especially important for children, infants, and people with chronic health conditions.

Because water makes up as much as 80% of cartilage, dehydration can have a large impact on the function of cartilage.

To work properly, cartilage needs plenty of water. The water within cartilage is essential for supporting its structure. Water also provides a medium through which different molecules within the cartilage can travel.

Cartilage reduces the friction between the bones that joints connect. If cartilage is not healthy, the increased friction in the joints may lead to joint pain.

Water also flushes toxins out of the body. This can reduce inflammation, which may also prevent or decrease joint pain.

This is especially true for people with arthritis, a condition that causes joint swelling or inflammation. Dehydration may worsen arthritis symptoms and lead to flare-ups of specific forms of arthritis, such as gout.

Additionally, a small 2016 study suggests that dehydration may increase an individual’s perception of pain. Thus, people who are already experiencing joint pain may feel this pain more intensely when they become dehydrated.

Many conditions can cause joint pain, including:

People experiencing joint pain should consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis.

A person can drink water consistently throughout the day to help treat and prevent mild dehydration.

Rehydration solutions may also be helpful for treating mild dehydration. Many pharmacies and grocery stores sell these. People should also avoid caffeine and alcohol, both of which can worsen dehydration.

Anyone experiencing extreme dehydration needs emergency medical care. At a hospital or urgent care center, medical professionals may give people intravenous fluids, oral rehydration salts, or electrolytes to treat severe dehydration.

Treatment for joint pain will depend on the underlying condition. A person should consult with a doctor to determine the best treatment option for them.

Dehydration is a condition that commonly affects older adults. In certain cases, dehydration can cause or worsen joint pain.

People with arthritis are at particular risk of experiencing joint pain. Making hydration a daily priority may help people reduce or prevent joint pain. A person should speak with a healthcare professional if they are experiencing joint pain.

Drinking more water is generally enough to treat mild dehydration. More severe cases may require emergency medical care. Anyone experiencing symptoms of advanced dehydration should consult a medical professional.