Ever wonder why sometimes it’s just more difficult to get out of bed in the morning, run up the steps, ride a bicycle, play with your kids, or simply move comfortably throughout your day? You’re not alone. Joint pain can result in a range of effects from annoyance at not being able to move quickly and easily, to a profound compromise of your personal comfort and ability to accomplish daily activities.
The causes of joint pain are as varied as its effects, from simple to serious. Remaining in the same posture for a long period of time—such as sitting still at your work desk for hours, or sleeping in the same position at night without shifting your body—can cause temporary joint discomfort.
Repetitive stress from overuse is also common, including the aches you feel in your dominant hand, wrist, or elbow when you use the computer mouse continually during the day. These causes, once identified, often can be relieved or even reversed in a relatively short period of time.
Other causes of joint pain, such as arthritis, demand more focused attention. Most forms of arthritis affect joints, certainly, but the most common form is osteoarthritis, which frequently strikes hips, knees, and other weight-bearing joints. This condition arises when the cartilage that normally protects the ends of the bones begins to wear out or break down. Once this vital cushioning is worn, unprotected bones can rub together at the joint.
Contrary to popular opinion, osteoarthritis can occur before 40 as well as after. In fact, this is the type of arthritis that is most likely to strike athletes in their prime because they put high demands on their bodies.
Some kinds of infections can be accompanied by joint pain as well, from minor bouts with the seasonal flu to serious cases of Lyme disease.
And though it’s an often-avoided discussion, the fact is that extra pounds can contribute to joint pain. That’s because excess weight adds to the strain joints must bear up under. Lower joints—feet, knees, and hips—are the ones most susceptible to damage from overweight.
Regardless of the cause, inflammation is usually the real culprit behind joint discomfort, pain, and limitations to the normal range of motion. Inflammation is the body’s innate way to respond to injury or damage to an area, particularly a joint. Physical therapy or surgery might be the answer to your pain, but I’d also like you to be aware of some alternative options.
1. Eat wisely.
Our discussion of food for joint pain begins with noting one substance that can surely worsen your discomfort: sugar. Sugar can spark inflammation, which fuels pain. What’s more, sugar can prevent inflammation from other causes such as injury or stress from abating, lengthening the time you suffer.
Fortunately, many foods naturally help decrease inflammation in your body. Colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, walnuts, olive oil, and fish are among the most powerful inflammation-busters around.
These foods offer valuable nutrients beyond joint health, too. Fish contains omega-3s, which some studies have linked to protection of memory and vision. Colorful produce is packed with antioxidants, those important vitamins that keep you strong by protecting cells and helping to eliminate free radicals. (Colorful foods can be flavorful and satisfying, too. Here’s one recipe that fits the bill: Warming Fall Pumpkin Soup[link to recipe below].)
And one group of veggies may be best avoided if you have joint troubles. Studies have suggested that produce from the nightshade family can make pain worse in some sensitive individuals. Nightshades include tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and potatoes.
2. Try supplementation.
Some common anti-inflammatory substances are easy to find in the form of good-quality supplements.
- Curcumin: A chemical compound that comes from the spice turmeric, curcumin helps inhibit inflammatory enzymes while reducing joint pain.
- Fish oils: Remember those omega-3s? They work by increasing the body’s production of substances that prevent inflammation.
- Ginger: This spice has been known to both relieve pain and modulate discomfort.
Some additional supplements are available—but be cautious. Get your doctor’s approval before trying the supplements below as they can interfere with certain medications.
- Boswellia: Derived from a tree resin, this substance is an effective pain reliever.
- Quercetin and rutin: These two bioflavonoids have been shown to decrease swelling and inflammation.
3. Uplevel your lifestyle.
Sleep deprivation can trigger all kinds of pain. My patients and clients report their joints are more uncomfortable when they’re tired. Simply getting enough good quality sleep every night might be enough to cure your aches.
Hidden food intolerances can also add to your discomfort. It may be valuable for you to go on a food-based detox to determine whether certain foods are contributing to your inflammation and pain. (Go to robertamittman.com/detox to register for my free, gentle, no-juicing-required detox plan.) Bonus: Many patients find that detox is the jump-start they need to begin losing extra pounds that also contribute to joint pain.
4. Get moving toward free joints.
Keeping movement in your daily life is crucial, but dial back on intensity to work safely around your joint pain. One gentle exercise recommended for inflammation is yoga. Yoga comes in a range of difficulty levels but is also noted for its relaxing benefits. Pilates, too, comes in varying levels and is known to increase flexibility. Swimming is another great option for those with joint pain because water lifts the body’s weight, easing the burden on the joints. With a good coach, weight training can be a safe routine that also builds muscular support for painful joints.
5. One final “point”…
For many centuries, acupuncture has been known for its therapeutic effects. As a licensed acupuncturist, I can personally attest to the relaxation and pain resolution acupuncture offers to patients, giving them the ability to start doing daily tasks and enjoying life again.
As you can see, joint pain is about more than just bones, and it’s not a condition limited to the older population. But regardless of why a joint may hurt, there’s almost always a degree of, or even complete, relief to be found. Please don’t think of surgery as your only option. I urge you to try these simple methods, and get back to moving and living free of pain—and enjoying many other wellness benefits besides!