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By In-house Team, Circle Health Group

Joint Pain Matters: Discover our in-depth report

Our Joint Pain Matters report examines the findings of a survey of 8,545 people battling join pain, offering invaluable insight into the devastating, widespread physical and psychological impact of joint pain on individuals, families, relationships and more

What is joint pain?

Joint pain is a very common problem affecting millions of people in the UK. It ranges from mild to severe depending on the cause. It can often be devastating to manage.

Our Joint Pain Matters report shares the stories of just some of the people living with chronic joint pain in the UK and further afield. 8,545 people took part, making it one of the largest UK studies of its kind. And while the results presented are not part of a scientific research project, the parallels with other studies are undeniable. What is presented in this report is statistical analysis, specialist commentary and, perhaps most importantly, the voice of people who suffer with musculoskeletal (MSK) pain every day of their lives.

We asked 8545 people aged 16-75+ what living with joint pain is really like.

71.53% of respondents were female and 28.16% male.

Respondents were predominantly located across the UK, with most located in South East England (14.17%). Responses were generally evenly distributed across UK locations.

What causes joint pain?

Joint pain can be caused by many conditions, including:

  • Osteoarthritis: symptoms include joint tenderness, joints appearing larger than usual, muscle weakness, reduced mobility Rheumatoid arthritis: symptoms include throbbing and aching joint pain, stiffness, swelling, warmth and redness in joints, lethargy, sweating
  • Psoriatic arthritis: symptoms include swollen, painful and stiff joints, joint deformities
  • Bursitis: symptoms include dull, achy joint pain, tender and warm joints
  • Gout: symptoms include sudden, severe pain in one joint, hot, swollen skin over affected joint
  • Shoulder impingement: symptoms include pain in the top and outer side of your shoulder, pain that's worse when you lift your arm, an aching pain in your shoulder, weakness in your arm
  • Tennis elbow: symptoms include swelling and tenderness on the outside of the elbow, which could travel to the forearm when lifting your arm, bending your arm, or gripping objects

Joint Pain Matters 2021 found that various forms of arthritis are the leading cause of joint pain, with 65.18% of respondents having been diagnosed with one form of arthritis or another.

Osteoarthritis is the most commonly diagnosed form of arthritis across men and women, with 37.12% of respondents having been diagnosed with the condition. 86.20% of survey respondents were officially diagnosed with a joint pain condition.

Most respondents (65.18%) suffer from some form of arthritis - predominantly, osteoarthritis (37.12%).

Which joints are affected by joint pain?

Joint pain can affect many different joints. We asked survey respondents about their experiences of:

Our analysis found that respondents suffered most from knee pain.

As you age, knee pain may become more severe.

It is caused by a number of conditions, such as arthritis or tendonitis, but it can also occur simply as a result of muscle strain.

How is joint pain diagnosed?

Joint pain conditions can be diagnosed through a physical examination, imaging, nerve testing or even blood and tissue testing.

Our survey findings reveal that people with knee pain are more likely to seek professional help sooner, with 38.55% of respondents waiting for less than one year before doing so.

Diagnosis time for joint pain in men

Most respondents to our survey didn’t put up with joint pain for long, with 40.08% respondents waiting for less than a year before seeking professional help for joint pain. And, overall, 60.79% waited less than two years before seeking medical help.

However, a fifth of respondents (22.46%) waited for five years or more before seeking professional help for joint pain, with 8.33% putting off professional healthcare advice for 10 years or more before visiting a healthcare professional.

The British Medical Journal (BMJ) says that people often delay visiting their GP (General Practitioner) for psychological reasons, as opposed to practical ones. The publication refers to this issue as the: “fear of finding out”, which is often induced by clinical environments and the daunting prospect of physical examinations.

Our survey findings reveal that people with knee pain are more likely to seek professional help sooner, with 38.55% of respondents waiting for less than one year before doing so.

Diagnosis time for joint pain in women

Our findings indicate that men are less likely to seek help for joint pain than women. Among our respondents, 14.33% of men waited for five to nine years before seeking help for joint pain compared with 14.07% of female respondents.

Common treatment options for joint pain

There are many treatment options tried to manage joint pain, including steroid injections, medication and physiotherapy. 

More than two thirds (69.67%) of respondents have used some sort of medication to treat and manage joint pain.

After medication, 47.98% of our respondents have used physiotherapy to manage joint pain. Our research shows that physiotherapy is more commonly used to treat neck pain (56.87%), back pain (56.63%) and shoulder pain (53.3%).

Surgery is also used to treat joint pain. Overall, 24.74% of our respondents have had surgery to treat joint pain. Our findings reveal that a total joint replacement surgery is the most common surgery for joint pain among respondents, with 36.12% of respondents waiting for a total joint replacement.

Nearly half (49.7%) of respondents with hip pain are waiting for a total joint replacement surgery. Similarly, 38.46% of respondents with hand and wrist pain are waiting for a total joint replacement surgery. 

Lifestyle changes and complementary therapies for joint pain

Complementary therapies offer a different approach than traditional medicine. They are often effective ways of managing joint pain. They include therapies such as yoga, supplements, acupuncture and meditation. 

Complementary therapies are often used alongside traditional treatment methods for pain management. 

In our survey, 61.84% of respondents had tried some sort of complementary therapy. Supplements are the most common type of complementary therapy tried by respondents who answered this question, with 34.89% having tried them to improve joint pain.

33.4% of respondents who have tried complementary therapies use hot and cold therapy. Heat therapy works by relaxing the muscles, improving pain tolerance and reducing joint pain. Harvard Medical recommends using heat therapy for joint pain, stating: “Heat helps improve your pain tolerance and relaxes muscles, both of which can reduce the pain of rheumatoid arthritis. Heat treatment remains a standard part of the physical therapist's practice.”

Lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise can also be adopted to manage joint pain.

Our survey respondents have adopted many lifestyle changes to combat joint pain, with 63.53% of respondents trying at least one of the following: changes to diet, quitting smoking, weight loss and drinking less. Of this group, 71.28% have tried exercising more to manage joint pain, and 53.21% of respondents have lost weight to treat joint pain.

More than two thirds (68.88%) of respondents to this year’s Joint Pain Matters survey reported that joint pain has impacted their mental health.

Life impact of joint pain

Severe joint pain significantly impacts a person’s quality of life. It interferes with romantic relationships, social life, family life, career progression, sleep patterns and physical activity. Cumulatively, these aspects of life shape a person’s mental wellbeing and overall sense of self.

More than two thirds (68.88%) of respondents to this year’s Joint Pain Matters survey reported that joint pain has impacted their mental health. More women than men say that joint pain has impacted their mental wellbeing, with 73.36% of respondents saying their mental health was impacted a ‘little’, ‘significantly’ or ‘massively’. This compares with only 57.6% of men, which could reflect a wider narrative about men’s health.

Pain disturbs sleeping patterns and ability to fall asleep. Overall, more than a third (37.38%) of respondents say that their sleep is disrupted by joint pain every night. Only 8.33% of respondents say their sleep is not affected.

There are many social implications associated with joint pain, which interfere with a person’s social life, family life and romantic relationships. People with joint pain often miss social events, because they are in too much pain to attend them. More than half (57.12%) of respondents have missed an event because of joint pain. One respondent said: “Family members and friends miss me at events. I either can’t stay long or don’t go at all, because I’m in pain. Sometimes, they don’t even invite me because they know I’ll miss it anyway.”

The same goes for romantic relationships: 49.29% say that joint pain has affected their romantic relationships. One respondent remarked: “I can’t go out. I can’t meet new people. Joint pain makes me feel less sexy, so I don’t want to meet new people, anyway.”

Again, this vicious cycle of pain and inability to socialise causes a person with joint pain to experience a lack of confidence and feel isolated.

Getting help for your joint pain

If you’re suffering with joint pain and would like help to manage your symptoms or diagnose your problem, we’re here to help.

You can book a consultation with one of our orthopaedic consultants online, or call us for further advice.

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