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Does Dehydration Cause Joint Pain? 4 Possible Causes of Joint Pain

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We all know hydration is important.

There is constant messaging about the importance of drinking enough water, and it seems that there is an ever-growing influx of hydration beverages, electrolyte solutions, smart water bottles, and water-drinking apps that help us try to prevent dehydration.

But, does dehydration cause joint pain? Is there an association between dehydration and joint pain? Will dehydration joint pain go away if you drink enough water?

In this guide, we will answer your question, does dehydration cause joint pain, how it can cause joint pain, dehydration joint pain symptoms, and tips to prevent joint pain from dehydration.

We will look at: 

  • Does Dehydration Cause Joint Pain?
  • Why Do My Joints Hurt When I Am Dehydrated?
  • How to Prevent Joint Pain From Dehydration

Let’s get started!

A person with knee joint pain.

Does Dehydration Cause Joint Pain?

Among the many consequences of dehydration, joint pain can also be a sign and symptom, even though it is not one of the first symptoms of dehydration we tend to think of.

It is important to establish that while joint pain can be a symptom of dehydration, and joint pain from dehydration is actually fairly common, there are numerous causes of joint pain in addition to dehydration.

This means that while the short answer to the question: “Does dehydration cause joint pain?” is yes, other things can also cause joint pain either in addition to dehydration or aside from dehydration altogether.

Therefore, if you have joint pain, you are not necessarily dehydrated, or dehydration may not be the only contributing factor to your joint pain.

For this reason, particularly if you find that your joint pain does not resolve after hydrating yourself or working to rectify chronic dehydration on a consistent basis, you should speak with your healthcare provider about other potential causes of joint pain.

A person holding their elbow in pain.

Why Do My Joints Hurt When I Am Dehydrated?

There are several reasons for the dehydration and joint pain association. 

#1: Dehydration Dries Up the Fluids Necessary to Lubricate the Joints

First and foremost, dehydration and joint pain can go hand-in-hand because the body needs adequate fluid levels in order to properly lubricate and nourish the joints involved in movement.

There are a number of different types of joints in the body.

For example, fibrous joints connect two bones with a very thick, fibrous connective tissue that allows for virtually no movement between the bones.

An example of fibrous joints in the body are the joints that connect the various bones of the skull together.

There is so little movement between these joints that we often think of the skull as one large bone, even though it is actually made up of very tightly “sewn“ or connected bones via fibrous joints.

Cartilaginous joints are connected with cartilage.

Cartilage is a very strong connective tissue, but it does permit a small amount of movement, so cartilaginous joints are a little bit more mobile than fibrous joints. An example of cartilaginous joints is the vertebrae connected in the spinal column.

A person holding their ankle.

Finally, when most people think of joints, they are picturing synovial joints, which are the most mobile type of joint in the body.

Synovial joints are made up of bones that are connected in a joint capsule, but there is space in between the bones in which a special biological fluid, known as synovial fluid, coats the ends of the bones.

This synovial fluid helps lubricate the cartilage at the ends of the bones and the juncture between the bones, much like motor oil in a car. 

This reduces the friction between the bones to permit smooth and fluid gliding motions. Examples of synovial joints in the body include the elbows, shoulders, hips, knees, and wrists.

Because synovial fluid is a body fluid, when you are dehydrated, the volume of synovial fluid decreases, which increases the viscosity or thickness of the fluid and, thus, its resistance to movement.

In this way, dehydration causes joint pain because the joints are no longer properly lubricated with free-flowing synovial fluid in ample quantities and of the correct viscosity to provide reliable and sufficient lubrication to the joints.

A person holding their neck and back.

#2: Dehydration Impairs the Function and Health of Cartilage In Joints

Another way in which dehydration can cause joint pain is by affecting the quality, function, and health of the cartilage in the joints themselves.

The ends of long bones that make up a synovial joint are coded with cartilage.

Cartilage is a specialized tissue with different properties in the body depending on where the cartilage is located and its particular function.

In joints, cartilage covers the ends of the bones where they articulate or meet together in the joint.

This is because cartilage is a very smooth biological material, so it helps facilitate gliding in the joint and reduces friction where the bones would otherwise rub together.

For example, in cases of osteoarthritis, the primary reason why there is crepitus, joint stiffness, or mobility issues in addition to pain is that the cartilage has worn down, and the bones are rubbing together instead of gliding with the smooth cartilage. 

This creates “sticky“ or stiff movements when trying to move the joint.

Cartilage itself is composed of about 80% water, which is why dehydration increases joint pain. Without enough water, the cartilage dehydrates, impeding the function of the cartilage to provide that smooth, gliding surface for your joints. 

Instead, the cartilage shrivels somewhat and is not moist, supple, and turgid, which then leads to more friction in the joint which can cause joint pain with dehydration.

A person holding their wrist.

#3: Dehydration Causes Inflammation In the Joints

Another way in which dehydration causes joint pain is by increasing inflammation in the joints.

Water helps flush metabolic byproducts out of the joints and facilitates the removal of toxins from the body via the kidneys in general.

If you are dehydrated, these processes are compromised, which can cause inflammation or swelling in the joints.

Furthermore, extra friction in the joints from poorly nourished and hydrated cartilage and a lack of synovial fluid will contribute to joint inflammation with dehydration. 

This is because these consequences of dehydration and joint health will cause the joints to experience more bone-on-bone rubbing, which is an irritant to the joint structures.

#4: Dehydration Increases Pain

Finally, dehydration can increase joint pain simply because studies suggest that dehydration increases your perception of pain. 

This means that if you are dehydrated, your joints may hurt more, particularly in cases where you have underlying osteoarthritis or joint issues.

A person holding their knee.

How to Prevent Joint Pain From Dehydration

Even if you try to do your best to stay properly hydrated, almost everyone has experienced signs and symptoms of dehydration from time to time when they have not been able to meet their hydration needs in an acute situation.

The good news is that as long as you recognize that you are exhibiting dehydration symptoms and are quick to rehydrate with enough fluid and electrolytes, in cases where electrolytes are necessary, you can restore proper fluid balance and the symptoms of dehydration—including joint pain—should be alleviated.

However, chronic dehydration is extremely commonplace and is more likely to lead to joint pain dehydration than acute dehydration.

In fact, research has found that about 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated.

This is a tremendously high prevalence and goes to show that chronic dehydration is a pervasive problem.

Not only is chronic dehydration associated with numerous physical and mental health consequences, but it also becomes more challenging to be aware of the signs and symptoms of dehydration if you are always in a state of being dehydrated.

Pouring a glass of water.

Dehydration becomes your norm, so you are not aware that your body is exhibiting dehydration symptoms.

According to the Institute of Medicine, women should drink at least 78 ounces (2.3 liters) of water each day, and men should drink at least 112 ounces (3.3 liters). 

Your fluid needs are even higher if you have a larger body size, sweat a lot, live in a hot climate, or perform endurance exercises or longer workouts.

Electrolytes, namely sodium, are also involved in maintaining proper fluid balance because when you consume sodium, the body will retain more fluid.

In cases where you are exhibiting more severe dehydration symptoms and bad joint pain from dehydration, it can also be helpful to have oral rehydration solutions with glucose.

Studies suggest that when glucose is consumed alongside electrolytes in fluid, fluid absorption is even faster and more effective.

Remember, while joint pain dehydration is possible, there are other causes of joint pain as well, so speak with your doctor if you have concerns about joint pain.

To help you drink more water to hopefully stave off joint pain, check out our 14-day water drinking challenge here.

A doctor helping a patient with joint pain.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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