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Understanding Your Joint Pain

Joint pain can impact daily activities and even keep you up at night. But what causes that pain and how does the body respond? Understanding why you are in pain is the first step to managing it.

Your Nerves and Joint Pain

Your nervous system is 45 miles of intricate nerves that run throughout the entire body from your feet to your back to your shoulders. On a normal basis, these nerves have some electricity running through them. This just means you are alive and your nerves are on the lookout for danger.

Think of your nervous system like a house alarm. Electricity is always running through it, but it does not activate until something bad happens.

Nerves act like the body’s alarm system. When they detect a disruption like a stubbed toe or an inflamed joint, they send electrical impulses to the brain, alerting it to danger and urging a response. The brain then decides what to do, like bend over to alleviate pressure on your toe or limp to avoid more damage to your joint.

But unlike a house alarm, you cannot just type in a code to turn off your nervous system from sending those danger messages. Even after you sit down or adjust your posture to alleviate pressure on your joint, the nerves are still ramped up. Those nerves are going to continue sending messages to the brain to let it know about the joint damage.

Joint Pain Due to Arthritis

As we age, our joints start to wear down. When this happens, our nervous system alerts the brain that something is not right. The brain then might decide to avoid a certain movement or limit range of motion to protect that joint.

Cartilage is a tough, smooth tissue that covers the ends of bones where the joint is located. It helps cushion the bones during movement, and because it is smooth and slippery, it allows for motion with minimal friction. In your knee, cartilage is located between your femur and tibia. Inside your hip socket, there is a ring of cartilage called the labrum which follows the outer edge of the socket.

Osteoarthritis (the most common form of arthritis) is a wear and tear condition that destroys joint cartilage. Sometimes as the result of trauma, repetitive movement, or for no apparent reason, the cartilage wears down, exposing bone ends. Cartilage destruction can result in painful bone-on-bone contact, along with swelling and loss of motion. This can occur quickly over months or may take years to occur.

When the cartilage wears down and the bones rub together, the nerves around it become alert and send danger messages to the brain.

What causes my joint pain to flare up?

Nerves have a lot of sensors that pick up on changes in temperature, stress, or movement. When nerves are on high alert after danger, they tend to be extra sensitive to changes because their sensors are more agitated.

Some nerve sensors include:


Our temperature sensors send messages to the brain when it is cold outside or we are about to eat hot food. Our brain might then decide we need to shiver, put on a jacket, or blow on the food to cool it down. When someone has joint pain or arthritis, their agitated nerves might cause the temperature sensors to be more sensitive to weather changes. They will then send danger messages to the brain, causing more aches and pain.


Joint pain can cause more stress than normal, whether it is because of missed work, interrupted daily activities, or lack of sleep. Stress, anxiety, and nervousness cause the body to release chemicals into the blood. Our nerves have sensors that are sensitive to these chemicals and can become alert, causing more joint pain and aches.

Movement and Pressure

Our nerves detect movement and pressure. If you are standing, your nerves let the brain know you have pressure on your feet, knees, and hips. But when your nerves are on high alert due to arthritis, they can be more sensitive to movements like walking, standing, or climbing the stairs. Your brain might view these movements as danger and send pain signals to protect your joint from further damage.

Joint Pain Help at Sauk Prairie Healthcare

Sauk Prairie Healthcare is here to help, whether you need a joint replacement surgery or want to work with a physical therapist to manage your pain. Call us to schedule an appointment.