Joint Problems


Visit the Arthritis topic for more information on osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and gout.

You may be more likely to develop joint problems if you have certain risk factors such as:

  • Family history of arthritis (parents or siblings have arthritis)
  • Older age
  • Being female (higher risk for rheumatoid arthritis) or male (higher risk of gout)
  • Having previous joint injuries
  • Being overweight or obese


In arthritic joints, your protective cartilage disappears. This allows small fractures and pits to appear on bone surfaces and causes painful bone-on-bone friction. Osteoarthritis occurs as a result of a lifetime of wear and tear.  Nerves under the cartilage become irritated and muscles and tendons may become inflamed. Past injuries or infections can also lead to arthritis in the affected joint. 

Rheumatoid Arthritis

In this condition, your body’s immune system attacks joint tissues, causing eventual destruction of the cartilage and bone along with the membranes. Blood vessels, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and nerves, as well as other organs, may also be damaged. 

Gout and Pseudogout

These two conditions are caused by a build-up of crystals from your bloodstream that collect in your joints – often in a single joint such as the knee or big toe. Uric acid crystals are responsible in gout, while in pseudogout, the culprit is calcium pyrophosphate crystals. These conditions may be linked to kidney disease or other conditions, certain medications, diet, alcohol intake, injuries, infection, or heredity.   


Bursitis is caused by inflamed bursae (the plural of bursa). The bursa is a protective sac around some joints including the shoulder and elbow. Bursitis may be caused by overuse or stress on the joint. In older people, it may accompany osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, or pseudogout.  The most commonly involved bursae are around the shoulder, elbow, and knees.  


There is no known cause for fibromyalgia, but there may be genetic and environmental components involved. The diagnosis is made by a healthcare provider after a careful history and physical exam. People who have fibromyalgia often have widespread pain accompanied by symptoms like sleep disturbance, mood symptoms, or fatigue. Laboratory tests are not needed to make the diagnosis, but they may be used to make sure that this is not a different medical condition. 

Rotator Cuff Injuries

Injuries to the rotator cuff are usually the result of years of stress on the muscles and tendons surrounding the shoulder joint. Your genes may also play a role in making you more susceptible. 

Frozen Shoulder

A frozen shoulder occurs when the ligaments in the shoulder joint become inflamed and develop tiny scars as they heal, which makes them seem “glued together,” which causes the “freezing” of the shoulder. The changes that come from aging, such as reduced production of lubricating fluid in the joint or worsening arthritis may contribute to it, but it mostly comes from lack of use of the shoulder because of chronic pain or damage.


Tendonitis is an inflammation of a tendon or the protective synovial membrane around a tendon. It is caused by overuse of the joint in younger people, but older people are at higher risk because tendons get less flexible and more vulnerable to stress with age.   Commonly involved tendons include those around the shoulder, elbow, and base of the thumb.  


Last Updated June 2020