What Are the Causes of Joint and Muscle Pain?

What Are the Causes of Joint and Muscle Pain?

Wondering if it's your joints or muscles aching? Read our guide to understand the causes of joint and muscle pain and learn the difference.


The Causes and symptoms of Joint and Muscle Pain

Muscle and joint pain belong to a larger category of common pain conditions affecting the muscles, connective tissue, and bones of a body, known as musculoskeletal pain

The musculoskeletal system includes all the physical structures of the human body that help support body weight and facilitate movement. This system includes the bones, muscles, ligaments, joints, tendons, and other connective tissues.

Because all these components are so connected and intertwined, joint pain can be mistaken for muscular pain, and vice versa.

This guide covers how to tell the difference between joint and muscle pain, and the common causes, symptoms, and treatments of muscle and joint pain


Joint Pain

Joint pain is pain or discomfort that affects the joints, which may include:

  • • ligaments (strong fibrous tissue that connects two bones together)
  • • cartilage (soft tissue cushioning between two bones that prevent grating)
  • • tendons  

Some of the most common joints prone to joint pain are the knees, hips, and spinal joints


What Causes Joint Pain?

Joint pain can range from mild discomfort to agonizing pain. Some of the most common joint pain causes include injuries and normal wear and tear.



Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis that affects weight-bearing joints (knees, hips), as well as the hands.

The gradual wear and tear of joint cartilage increase the chances of bone rubbing or bone reshaping which can cause pain.


 Overuse injury

A contributor to chronic joint pain, overuse injuries cause repetitive stress and microtrauma to joints and components surrounding joints, which causes joint pain.

Bursitis is one example of this. It’s a condition caused by overuse of a particular joint. It results in painful swelling, irritation, and inflammation of a bursa, which is a fluid-filled sac located between bones in a joint. It tends to occur in the knees, shoulders, elbows, hips, and feet.


Risk Factors for Joint Pain

Risk factors that may contribute to joint pain include:

  • • prior injury or injuries at a joint
  • • excess weight (being overweight or obese)
  • • increased age (daily wear and tear on joints)


Muscle Pain

Muscle pain describes pain affecting a muscle, a group of muscles, or tendons. Tendons are the connective tissues that attach muscle to bone.

The six major groups of skeletal muscles are:

  • • back
  • • arms
  • • Legs
  • • shoulders
  • • chest
  • • abdominal area

All of these muscle groups are prone to muscle pain due to injury, repetitive stress, or other reasons.


What Causes Muscle Pain?  

Common causes for muscle pain include acute soft-tissue injuries that tend to resolve with enough rest and treatment with at-home remedies. Below are common injuries that cause muscle pain.

Muscle strain

A muscle strain, also known as a pulled muscle, involves stretching a muscle beyond its normal ability. This causes tears in the muscle fibers, resulting in pain.


Impact injury resulting in bruising

Impact injuries to a muscle that result in bruising can cause pain and tenderness in the impact area. For example, getting kicked in the calf muscle can leave a painful and tender feeling, alongside bruising. It may last for a few days.


Muscle spasms

Muscle spasms are the sudden and involuntary tightening and contraction of a muscle. This can produce painful sensations. Muscle spasms may last from a  and may occur more than once.


Overuse injuries

Physical inactivity conditions the muscle into becoming immobile and weak. However, beyond directly impacting the weak muscle(s) itself, surrounding muscle groups have to overwork to compensate for the weak muscle. This can in turn lead to overuse injuries and muscle pain.

For example, weak abdominal muscles can cause the back muscles to work harder, in order to support upper body weight. Constant overuse of the back muscles can eventually lead to chronic back muscle pain and back muscle strain.


Risk Factors for Muscle Pain

The following may increase your risk of developing muscle pain:

  • • tight hamstrings, and weak abdominal or back muscles
  • • overexerting during a workout
  • • working a job that is physically intensive

Essentially, situations where you are overusing a certain muscle or physically overexerting your body and muscles, may increase your risk of developing muscle pain. These factors can also increase your risk of the pain turning chronic (long-lasting).


How to Tell the Difference Between Joint and Muscle Pain

So, all that said, what is the actual difference between joint pain and muscle pain?

In terms of how the pain itself feels, the distinguishing factor between joint and muscle pain is the location of the pain within the affected area. Muscle pain can be felt deep within the flesh, and may affect one specific muscle or group, or be felt all over. Joint pain, however, is felt at the bone or immediately surrounding a joint.


We’ll take a closer look at the symptoms of these two types of pain below.

Symptoms of Joint and Muscle Pain

Here are some common symptoms you might experience with joint and muscle pain:

Joint Pain Symptoms

Joint pain in common weight-bearing joints, such as the knees, hips, and spinal joints, tends to be easier to identify because of where they are located.

Other symptoms you might experience with joint pain include:

  • • swelling
  • • inflammation
  • • redness or warmth
  • • creakiness or tendency to make noise when moving
  • • difficulty bending or straightening the joint


Muscle Pain Symptoms

Muscle pain affects muscles and tendons, and can be felt deep within the flesh. You might feel:

  • • dull aching
  • • sharp pain
  • • muscle spasms
  • • muscle weakness
  • • muscle stiffness or tension

More severe cases of muscle pain, such as in the case of delayed-onset muscle soreness, may reduce your range of motion.



This content is only for general awareness and not a replacement for medical advice.

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