A 4-Point Plan for Protecting Active Joints
1. Lighten Up to Get Moving
If you’re overweight, losing some extra pounds is the place to start to help keep your joints performing their best and to prevent arthritis from setting in. Exercise is a key player in preserving healthy joint function by strengthening the muscles around the joints, enhancing local circulation, and raising levels of natural pain killers.
- Be joint-friendly: While high-impact sports are not likely to cause arthritis, they can make cranky joints feel worse. Focus on exercises that minimize impact on the weight-bearing joints, like swimming, cycling, and walking. Remember to warm up with gentle stretches or add yoga to your routine to get the most out of your workout and to reduce the chance of injury.
2. Eat Your Way to Healthier Joints
What you eat affects how your joints feel and function. Certain foods are thought to cause inflammation in the body, increasing pain and interfering with the healing process.
- The brighter, the better when picking produce: Colorful fruits and veggies contain powerful antioxidants that may combat inflammation. Feed your palate with the rich hues of blueberries, mango, kale, red cabbage, sweet potatoes, strawberries, and pomegranate.
- Fit in some fish: Adding fish to your diet at least twice a week is a good idea. Rich in inflammation-fighting omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, wild-caught salmon and farmed rainbow trout are good picks.
- Think before you eat: Foods in the nightshade family—tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplant, and potatoes—can make joint pain worse for some people with osteoarthritis. If you have this kind of arthritis, try avoiding these foods for a couple of months to see if your symptoms improve. Some doctors have observed that sugar, meat, and dairy may also negatively affect joints. The meat and milk from grass-fed cows are actually high in omega-3 fatty acids (much like fish); grain-fed cows, however, produce meat and milk that is high in a specific type of fatty acid (arachidonic acid) that may be pro-inflammatory. Choose 100% grass-fed meat and dairy products, and opt for unrefined sweeteners like maple syrup, brown rice syrup, and rapadura (dehydrated cane juice).
3. Consider supplements
With so many choices on the market for joint pain, here are some tips for finding the best bets for keeping your joints feeling supple:
- Glucosamine sulfate/Chondroitan sulfate (GS/CS): These supplements can help improve joint function and lessen osteoarthritis pain. GS is the building block for the synthesis and repair of joint cartilage, and supplementation may relieve osteoarthritis symptoms and sometimes halt disease progression. CS is a similar molecule that may actually help heal the joints over time in people with osteoarthritis. It also significantly decreases pain and improves joint mobility. Recommended dosages: 1,500 mg per day of GS; 1,200 mg per day of CS.
- Anatabine: Derived from a plant alkaloid, manufacturers have started marketing this supplement claiming anti-inflammatory effects. Until more is known about the safety and effectiveness of this supplement, people should check with their doctor.
- Capsaicin cream: A cream made from an extract of cayenne pepper containing 0.025 to 0.075% capsaicin can reduce joint pain and tenderness. Apply four times per day to affected joints for two to four weeks; decrease as symptoms improve.
- Herbal aid: Plant-based remedies have been used for centuries to help ease joint pain. Look for products containing some or all of the following: boswellia, cat’s claw, ginger, holy basil, and turmeric. These herbs may facilitate the removal of proinflammatory substances from the body and shift the balance to those that promote tissue healing and calm inflammation.
- Seaweed extract: Some seaweed extract products have shown promising results for treating joint discomfort and reducing the need for pain-relieving medications in people with arthritis.
4. Create a Home Spa
At the end of a busy day, take the time to nourish your body from the outside, too.
- Soak away the pain: Epsom salt baths may be helpful for tired, achy bodies. Hot water allows the magnesium-rich salts to penetrate tissues, relaxing sore muscles and bringing relief to stiff joints. Don’t go light; add a full quart of Epsom salt to bath water and soak for as long as you like.
- Make the most of marvelous mud: Recent studies have confirmed that mineral-rich mud packs can bring lasting relief to arthritic joints. Mud packs may be sold under the names “peloid” or “peat” packs.
If you have ongoing joint pain that doesn’t respond to these simple measures, it may be a sign of a more serious condition. See your doctor to determine a plan that’s right for you.