Joint Pain: Care Instructions

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Many people have minor aches and pains from overuse or injury to muscles and joints. Joint injuries often happen during sports or recreation, work tasks, or projects around the home. An overuse injury can happen when you put too much stress on a joint or when you do an activity that stresses the joint over and over, such as using the computer or rowing a boat.

You can take action at home to help your muscles and joints get better. You should feel better in 1 to 2 weeks, but it can take 3 months or more to heal completely.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Do not put weight on the injured joint for at least a day or two.
  • Wrap the injury in an elastic bandage. Do not wrap it too tightly because this can cause more swelling.
  • Put ice or a cold pack on the sore joint for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Try to do this every 1 to 2 hours for the next 3 days (when you are awake). Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.
  • Prop up the sore joint on a pillow when you ice it or anytime you sit or lie down during the next 3 days. Try to keep it above the level of your heart. This will help reduce swelling.
  • After 2 or 3 days, you can try applying heat to the area that hurts. Apply heat for 10 to 20 minutes at a time, several times a day. Types of heat therapy include microwavable packs and disposable heating patches. You might also try switching between ice and heat.
  • Ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Do not take two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • After 1 or 2 days of rest, begin moving the joint gently. While the joint is still healing, you can begin to exercise using activities that do not strain or hurt the painful joint.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, and redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the joint.
    • A fever.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your movement or symptoms are not getting better after 1 to 2 weeks of home treatment.

Where can you learn more?

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.