Mild joint pain can be an irritating inconvenience, whilst severe joint pain can be a debilitating and life-changing condition. Joint pain is often caused by the thinning of the cushioning between bones, which causes them to rub together: but why exactly this happens isn’t always clear – there are over 100 different types of arthritis alone! However, joint pain can also be caused by things like uric acid crystals or an injury.
Luckily, there are a number of things you can do to protect your joints, regardless of the cause of your joint pain. Today we're looking at the four main steps to follow to make sure your joints stay strong and healthy.
#1 Exercise and weight control
Two of the most important things you can do to ease and prevent joint pain is to move more and keep your weight under control – two things which are, funnily enough, connected.
The more we weigh, the more pressure is put on our joints, especially the lower joints such as hips, knees and ankles. Keeping weight under control is so important – it is thought that every pound you lose can remove up to 4 pounds of pressure off your knee joints!
This is where exercise comes into it. Exercising more helps you to lose weight, but it also strengthens the muscles around your joints, meaning that they are much better supported. Keeping your joints moving more regularly can also keep them supple and flexible, as unused joints can quickly become stiff.
But how to start when your joints are already stiff and sore? The key is to build up slowly. If your joints are really sore and stiff, start with simple exercises: bending and straightening your knee while sitting down; slowly rotating your wrists or ankles; clenching and unclenching your fingers; or gently squatting.
A gentle walk is a great option, but the two things we really, really recommend are swimming and yoga. While you swim, the water supports the weight of your body, taking pressure off your joints, which is particularly useful if being overweight is making joint pain worse. Yoga is a low-impact activity which allows the joints to take a little weight, without the shock and impact of sports like running. Yoga is becoming so popular these days, and for good reason! It’s so easy to tailor to different needs and abilities, and you can make it as gentle or as tough as you like.
Just be careful not to overdo it, as this can make joint pain worse. This is particularly important for younger people looking to prevent joint pain later in life. If you do too much high-impact exercise now, your joints could suffer later. If you run regularly, try swapping a few runs a week for the pool or yoga mat.
#2 A joint-friendly diet
That’s right, your diet can have a big impact on your joint health! Again, this can be tied into weight, as eating better helps you to lose weight, but there a number of particular foods that can either irritate or ease your joints.
Avoiding, or at least reducing inflammatory foods is a good idea. These include red meats, processed carbohydrates (like white sugar, white bread and white flour), alcohol and dairy products. If you suffer from gout, you should avoid these foods, especially things like kidneys and liver.
Include more oily fish, turmeric, soybeans (including soya milk and tofu), complex carbohydrates (like brown bread, brown rice and quinoa), and leafy green vegetables (like kale, pak choi, spinach and broccoli) in your diet. For gout, you’ll want to start eating more cherries as these help to reduce the formation of crystals in the joints!
In addition, make sure to drink more water. Keeping hydrated is not only good for the brain and muscles, but it helps to keep joints lubricated, flush inflammatory toxins from the body and dilute uric acid.
#3 Supplements and natural remedies
There are a huge range of supplements and remedies for joint pain; some popular choices are:
- Arnica gel – an external gel applied to the joints to soothe pain
- Devil’s claw – a traditional herb used for joint stiffness
- Glucosamine – a substance naturally found in the body that helps build essential parts of the joint
- Celadrin – a mix of fatty acids that help keep joints lubricated
- Turmeric supplement – a natural inflammatory that reduces inflammation in sore joints
Something we really recommend trying, that you may not have heard of yet, is Solgar 7. This unique formulation is thought to be the next generation of joint therapy, outshining even the hugely popular glucosamine. It contains a range of natural ingredients such as vitamin C, turmeric and standardised cartilage to maintain healthier joints.
Vitamin and mineral supplements can also be hugely beneficial. Calcium is the famous bone mineral, but magnesium and vitamin D are also really important for maintaining bone and muscle strength. Get your hands on a good quality vitamin and mineral supplement containing these three nutrients – many brands have products tailored specifically to joint pain too!
#4 Treating injuries properly
So you’re right in the middle of a run or the big game when a trip or fall leaves you with an injured ankle, knee or wrist – ouch! So what do you do?
Ensuring injuries heal properly is a crucial aspect of joint health. As soon as possible after injuring the joint, apply ice to reduce pain, swelling and inflammation. As the injury begins to heal over the next few weeks it can become stiff and sore – this is when to apply heat. Deep heat, a warm bath or a heat pack can all be really useful.
And finally, make sure to give it plenty of rest. Depending on the type and severity of injury, this could be anything from a few days to a few months, so speak to a doctor or physiotherapist for more advice. When you do start using your injured joint again, make sure to start slowly and give it plenty of support using a joint brace or sleeve.
We’ve covered the four main steps to protect your joints and keeping them healthy, but here are two extra tips we thought you’d find useful.
Make sure you’re wearing supportive footwear, especially if you spend a lot of time on your feet. Avoid heels as much as possible, and opt instead for something flatter, more cushioned and more supportive – but make sure they are still flexible and comfortable.
You should also make sure to wrap up warm in cold weather, as the cold can quickly exacerbate joint pain. Spend a little extra on heating, cover draughts with curtains and draught excluders, and wear warm clothes (including a hat, scarf and gloves) when venturing out into the cold.