Managing joint pain in primary care

J Am Board Fam Pract. 2004 Nov-Dec:17 Suppl:S32-42. doi: 10.3122/jabfm.17.suppl_1.s32.


Joint pain is a common problem seen by family physicians. Although many pain complaints arise from self-limited conditions, a substantial number require immediate and ongoing care. Prompt appropriate treatment can help limit symptoms, prevent disability, and improve outcomes. The differential diagnosis is varied, with both laboratory studies and diagnostic imaging available to help evaluate the joint. At the initial evaluation and at each subsequent re-evaluation, there should be efforts to identify dangerous conditions and distinguish conditions with a disease-specific pathogenesis. Treatment of joint pain consists of both pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic modalities. Pharmacologic therapies may include medications specific for pain, inflammation, and adjuncts specific to the diagnosis. Treatment of pain should proceed in a step-wise fashion providing medications appropriate for treating the level of pain. Inflammation is treated with physical modalities and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory or cyclo-oxygenase-2 inhibitors. Nonpharmacologic therapies may include protection, rest, ice, compression, elevation, and simple office procedures. Physical therapy and education can assist in the recovery process, and prevent recurrence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetaminophen / therapeutic use
  • Algorithms
  • Analgesics / therapeutic use
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / therapeutic use
  • Arthralgia / diagnosis
  • Arthralgia / therapy*
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Humans
  • Joints / physiopathology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Narcotics / therapeutic use
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Primary Health Care*
  • Time Factors
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed


  • Analgesics
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Narcotics
  • Acetaminophen