With age, many of us experience sore joints on occasion. If this happens once in a while, as a result of sleeping in an odd position or overdoing your exercise, then this really shouldn’t be anything to worry about. A little bed rest and perhaps a few ibuprofen should have you back on your feet within a day or two. But what if joint pain is becoming an ever more common part of your life?
Under these circumstances, you may be unfortunate enough to start feeling the early effects of arthritis. Remember that arthritis can strike at almost any age and most certainly isn’t just restricted to the elderly. Alternatively you may be suffering from another condition which has resulted in tender, swollen or sore joints.
Whatever the situation you’ll know the feeling of discomfort (or downright pain) and reduced mobility. But what can you do to resolve your joint problems?
In this article we’ll discuss some of the most effective solutions, which have been shown to work in numerous scientific investigations.
Change Your Diet
One of the most surprising discoveries made in recent years is that the food you eat can have an enormous impact on your joints. One compound in particular – known as arachidonic acid – has direct links to inflammation in the body. It is also present in very high amounts in some foods.
Studies have shown that eating a so-called “anti-inflammatory diet” or AID can significantly reduce both joint tenderness and swelling.
Seeing as inflammation is one of the most common causes of joint pain, be that from over-exercising or from conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, being able to naturally reduce this effect by changing your diet is an exciting possibility.
So what are the foods you should be avoiding to benefit your joints?
An interesting piece of research known as the “National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey” took place in 2005, and carefully collated the arachidonic acid levels of common western food stuffs. They found that the highest levels are found in chicken, closely followed by eggs. Other foods with high levels include fish, beef, pork and turkey, together with their derivatives such as burgers and sausages.
Broadly speaking, therefore, a diet that avoids animal-based foodstuffs is likely to be most effective for reducing your intake of arachidonic acid and, by extension, joint inflammation. If the idea of a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle doesn’t fill you with joy then at least consider cutting down on your meat consumption. This has the secondary benefit of being an environmentally-sound decision too, as meat is considered to rate very low on the scale of environmental friendliness.
You might be surprised to learn that many of the spices we traditionally use in recipes also display anti-inflammatory properties when used correctly. Of the various options the following have some of the strongest scientific backing:
The active ingredient in turmeric is known as “curcumin”. Sadly, the curcumin content of most turmeric powder is quite low. Worse, the body struggles to absorb curcumin from the gut. Nutritionists have noted that combining curcumin with piperine – a constituent of black pepper – significantly improves your body’s ability to absorb and use curcumin.
Therefore, while there are plenty of articles that suggest adding more turmeric to your diet this is likely to have a very minimal benefit. Instead, look for a prepared supplement that has been specifically designed to offer high levels of curcumin combined with piperine.
Ginger is another natural product which seems to help control chronic inflammation in the body. Unlike turmeric, plain old ginger root powder (dried ginger) can be used, so it can be easy to source from standard grocery stores. All the same, many people still opt to take ginger in supplement form, where the tablet or capsule can make it easier to consume.
Studies of giving ginger powder to those suffering from a range of joint problems – from rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis – suggests that over 75% of people experience at least a degree of improvement as a result.
The active ingredient in chilli peppers, which makes them so “hot” on the palette, is known as “capsaicin”. Unlike the two previous spices, however, capsaicin seems to be most effective when used topically, rather than when consumed in the diet.
A study in which a relatively weak ointment was used – just 0.025% capsaicin – reported that over half of participants experienced reductions in pain when it was applied to sore joints 3-4 times a day.
If there is a downside to the use of capsaicin it is the mild burning sensation that most people experience when first applying it. Interestingly, scientists believe that it is this very burning sensation that is actually having the positive benefit. Research has shown that the feeling of “heat” derived from topical chilli causes the nerves to “overfire”, running out of the chemical messengers that normally transmit sensations of pain. In doing so, capsaicin stops pain in its tracks.
Consume More Omega 3 Fats
We’ve already discussed the importance of reducing your arachidonic acid intake to help reduce joint swelling and inflammation, but there’s something else we can do too – and that’s to consume more omega 3 oils. Think of consuming these oils as rather like throwing water onto a fire; they soothe the inflammation.
The best source of omega 3 fats are oily fish like salmon and mackerel. Try to consume one or two portions of these fish per week. The reason that fish works so well is that it also contains a host of other vitamins and minerals which offer additional health benefits.
Of course, a rather quicker and easier alternative is to pick up some cod liver oil tablets from your local pharmacy or grocery store.
Statistically speaking, it has been shown that people with a higher BMI are more likely to end up with arthritis, particularly in the hips, knees and ankles. This is hardly surprising, as such joints find themselves under additional strain when carrying around extra weight. Getting into shape and shedding any excess pounds can therefore be a highly beneficial practice.
If your joint discomfort is to be found elsewhere in the body – such as your fingers or wrists – then don’t assume that remaining overweight is perfectly safe. After all, you’re already starting to see the signs of arthritis. Now would therefore be the ideal time to start a calorie-controlled diet to minimize the chance of your condition spreading to other joints.
Changing the heat of your joints can positively influence the discomfort you experience. Over the years both heat and cold have been variously recommended, so which is better in reality?
Research has shown that adding warmth – such as with a topical treatment or using a heated blanket – can be effective in many cases. However, this doesn’t apply to *all* cases. It seems that warmth is better for treating some joint conditions than others. Gout, as an example, tends not to respond as well to heat treatment as osteoarthritis might.
Interestingly, ice seems to have a positive impact on all major joint-related conditions. As a result, especially if you’re not sure of the medical reasoning behind your joint discomfort, using an ice-pack is likely to yield better results.
When you’re suffering from sore joints it can be tempting to stop exercising unnecessarily. After all, why move around if it hurts? The answer is that while rest and elevation may benefit short-term discomfort, the impact can be rather different over the long-term. It seems that there really is a “use of lose it” principle when it comes to many joint conditions like arthritis.
Numerous studies have noted that encouraging low-impact activities like walking, gardening, swimming, aerobics or tai chi can all benefit the joints in many ways. This applies just as much for arthritis sufferers, with such activities helping to reduce inflammation.
Elsewhere, studies have examined whether building muscle can help in cases of arthritis. Broadly speaking the results have been very positive. Researchers have noted that ongoing resistance training programs designed to grow the muscles around a joint help to provide additional support. In essence, the additional muscle mass adds structural support, taking pressure off the joint itself.
While it is advisable to only undergo such a rigorous training program with full support from your doctor, it could be argued that just staying moderately active and combining this with a healthy diet is ideal for supporting muscle health. While you may want to avoid high protein foods like meat and eggs – to limit your arachidonic acid intake – whey protein powders can be a great way to aid muscle growth thanks to regular exercise.
According to Matt Durkin, head nutritionist as Simply Supplements, glucosamine is a sugar that represents an important structural element of the joints. Glucosamine has also been shown to influence the level of hyaluronic acid in your joints – the liquid that lubricates and cushions joints during motion. Unfortunately, levels of glucosamine can fall over time, either thanks to injury or natural ageing. In recent decades ever more people have started to take supplementary glucosamine as a way to top up their natural levels.
While the medical community is far from unanimous in its support of glucosamine, there is a growing body of research that illustrates the potential benefits. Studies have found, for example, that glucosamine can slow down joint degeneration and increase both speed and range of movement.
Perhaps most excitingly glucosamine is reportedly as potent as ibuprofen for pain relief for people suffering from joint conditions, but without the nasty potential side effects. For these reasons a huge number of people opt to take a daily glucosamine supplement to keep their joints in good condition.
While it can be difficult to completely reverse sore joints, there are a host of different ways in the impact can be mitigated. Numerous studies, involving thousands of participants, have shown that a huge range of dietary and lifestyle changes can positively impact joints. All you need to do now is decide which of the many options you’ll try first.