Joint pain is a very common problem among adults, especially those with risk factors such as: overusing certain joints in the body, having an existing health condition like arthritis, being overweight or obese, living a sedentary lifestyle, being very stressed or eating a poor diet.
Common Areas of Joint Pain
Joint pain is most likely to develop in one or more of the following areas:
- The neck and top of the back/spine.
- The jaw
- The knees
- The hips
- The low back
- Back of the legs
- The shoulders (the ball and socket joints)
- The wrists, hands & fingers, such as with carpal tunnel syndrome)
- The ankles, feet, heels, and toes, especially in runners who experience injuries or those who exercise with poor form
Causes of Joint Pain
There are several causes for joint pain, which can include:
- Older age. As your age increases and the collagen that builds cartilage in your joints start to deteriorate, aches and pains are more likely to occur.
- Arthritis or Osteoarthritis
- Overuse due to performing repetitive movements. For example runners/triathletes often feels joint pain during long runs. Other sports and hobbies that put pressure on a particular joint over and over can also worsen symptoms, like dancing, cycling, yoga, gymnastics, soccer, football, rowing, etc. Wearing the wrong shoes or worn-out sneakers can worsen joint pain in the legs, sometimes which can travel up the body to the hips, pelvis, and back
- Poor posture
- Injuries, impact or trauma
- Inactivity or a sedentary lifestyle, such as sitting for many hours per day
- An autoimmune disorder that increases inflammation, such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism or fibromyalgia
- Due to muscle pains or an injury that places pressure on a joint
- Joint pain may also become worse if another condition starts weakening muscles or causing bone pain, such as bursitis, osteoporosis or a fracture
- In rare cases due to an infection, or a virus or illness that causes “achiness”, such as the flu
- A lack of sleep, which can contribute to fatigue, achiness, and stiffness
Natural Remedies for Joint Pain
1. Epsom Salt Soak
A classic remedy for any muscle or joint ache is taking a relaxing bath with Epsom Salts. High in magnesium and sulfates, Epsom salts are easily absorbed through the skin to provide quick relief as they lower inflammation, reduce muscle spasms and relax tense areas. Add two cups of salts to warm bath water and soak for at least twenty minutes. Alternatively, Epsom Salts can be used in a compress to apply directly to the skin. Simply dilute two cups into one gallon of water then soak your towel for several minutes to absorb the solution.
You can also try adding essential oils to your Epsom salt bath; the kind you choose will depend on what’s causing your pain. For example choose lavender essential oil if stress is worsening an existing condition that causes pain, or applies peppermint oil if the painful site feels warm and swollen.
2. Hot and Cold Packs
For immediate joint pain relief, rest the painful area and try a hot-and-cold approach to managing pain. Apply a hot therapeutic gel pack to the affected area for twenty minutes. Immediately follow up with a cold ice pack for another twenty minutes. If you can’t stand the severity of ice, let it thaw out while you are applying heat. Even a mildly-chilled pack will help bring relief to a stiff area. Try to apply ice or heat every day is possible, aiming for at least 15 minutes. Keep the area elevated if swelling is bad to reduce fluid retention.
Another helpful approach is applying peppermint essential oil and/or eucalyptus oil to spots that are inflamed and swollen. Due to their cooling menthol effects, peppermint and eucalyptus reduce heat, swelling, and discomfort as it absorbs right into your skin. In animal studies, these oils have been found to not only suppress pain tied to inflammatory conditions but also to decrease fluid retention (edema). Other essential oils for arthritis and joint pain include frankincense, myrrh, orange and turmeric oils.
3. Getting Enough Movement & Exercise
Stiff muscles due to inactivity can cause joint pain in the body or worsen conditions such as arthritis. For example, tension in the leg muscles can be responsible for added stress placed on the knees and hips, as weak muscles contribute to instability and higher risk for injuries or compensations. Regularly exercising can help strengthen and stretch the affected joints and muscles, improving circulation and often reducing pain.
Additionally, the stronger your muscles and joints become, the better chance you have of staying active without dealing with pain; this is helpful for preventing weight gain that can add pressure to sore joints. Some of the best low-impact exercises for people experiencing joint pain include swimming, water aerobics, cycling, using an elliptical, and walking or yoga if appropriate. You’ve also heard me mention it before: doing burst training exercises is one of the best ways to stay active almost anywhere and with little time. You don’t have to commit to hours of traditional cardio to be active, you can start small and work on increasing flexibility, coordination and strength in weak areas. Wearing a brace or wrap around a painful joint may help as you get started, so ask your doctor for a physical therapist for advice about this approach if needed.
4. If Appropriate, Weight Loss
Carrying around extra pounds puts unnecessary strain on your joints and bones. If you suffer from joint pain as well as a bone disorder, such as osteoporosis, being overweight can also accelerate bone degeneration. Even shedding just a few pounds can ease pain and may prevent against future problems. In most cases, when being overweight or obese is contributing to a health problem, experts recommend aiming to lose about 5-10 percent of your total body weight in order to see if symptoms improve.
5. Diet Modifications
The easiest way to prevent against pain long-term is a change in diet. Chronic inflammation in the body causes weakness and will eventually lead to tissue degeneration. By implementing an anti-inflammatory diet, joint and bone pain caused by inflammation and swelling will likely start to decrease. Omega-3 fatty acids found in foods like cold-water fish, chia seeds, and walnuts are great for helping to lower inflammation in the body. Fresh fruits and vegetables are loaded with antioxidants that slow the effects of aging. Try to limit (or even completely remove) processed foods, trans fats and added sugars, as these can cause severe inflammation in the body.
6. Collagen & Other Helpful Supplements
- Collagen: Collagen is the type of protein found in our bodies that help build joints and keeps connective tissue strong. Collagen contains 19 different amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, that have essential roles in both mental and physical health, including keeping us pain-free. Because it acts like a sort of natural “glue” in the body, holding things like our skin and joints together, collagen has many benefits like supporting healthy muscle growth, decreasing arthritis symptoms, healing the walls of our arteries and digestive tract, boosting energy, and helping us recover from workouts. Some of the main dietary sources of collagen include foods that are very high in protein, such as beef, chicken, fish and egg shell membranes. Collagen can also be found in supplement form, such as in collagen protein powders, or obtained naturally from consuming real bone broth.
- Proteolytic Enzyme: A great alternative to Aspirin is taking proteolytic enzymes. In certain studies, athletes or those with joint pain have been able to reduce recovery time sometimes by up to about 50 percent by taking proteolytic enzyme supplements, which help to naturally reduce inflammation and improve nutrient/protein absorption. Bromelain is one type of proteolytic enzyme found in the core of pineapples and made into an extract that has been shown to reduce swelling and causes of pain. Enzymes are helpful digesting protein (amino acids) which is needed to repair damaged tissue.
- Anti-Inflammatory Herbs: Herbs like turmeric, ginger, and Boswellia are great for reducing inflammation throughout the body. You can take them as supplements in order to obtain a more concentrated dosage, or use them in cooking.
- Essential Fatty Acids: Omega-3 fats have benefits throughout your body, as they help fight inflammation. Wild caught salmon, sardines, mackerel and grass-fed beef are good sources of omega-3s, as well as flax seeds, chia seeds, and walnuts.
- Electrolytes (like Potassium and Sodium): You need electrolytes to reduce muscular pain, control fluid retention and help with detoxification. They can also help your body fight inflammation by helping to bring water and nutrients into your body’s cells. Potassium aids in flushing waste and other toxins out of your body’s cells, so low levels of potassium can cause joint pain and swelling. The average American consumes much less potassium than they really need, due to eating little fruits and veggies. Leafy greens, sweet potatoes, bananas, avocados and coconut water are foods that have a good balance of electrolytes to speed the healing process.
- Calcium: Bones and teeth need calcium, but the body cannot produce it naturally. Therefore, we must absorb it through food or seek out a supplement. Natural sources of calcium are dark leafy greens, dairy products, and almonds.
- Vitamin D: The body cannot absorb enough calcium without adequate amounts of vitamin D. Fish, eggs and sunlight are the best natural sources. When choosing a supplement, seek out vitamin D3 as it is the same form obtained through sun exposure.
- Glucosamine: Naturally found in cartilage, the best way to consume glucosamine naturally is by preparing a bone broth. If using a supplement, a liquid is easier for the body to absorb than a powder.
- SAMe: This molecule helps build strong joints by delivering sulfur to cartilage. Studies suggest it has a similar effect to Aspirin or ibuprofen for relieving pain. There is no natural food source to provide SAMe, so a supplement is necessary. Look for products labeled “butane sulfonate” as this is the most stable form.
Precautions When Treating Joint Pain
Because there are so many different reasons that you might be experiencing joint pain, if your symptoms last for more than several weeks, are sudden or are unexplained, visit your doctor for diagnoses. In the mean time try to rest any area that is very inflamed or recently injured. If the pain comes and goes for you, work on gently stretching and staying active in order to prevent stiffness from worsening.