By ARIADNE WEINBERG, Featured Columnist
It's normal to feel a little stiff sometimes, but if you're starting to feel pain regularly, you might want to get your joints checked out. The official name for joint pain is arthritis. I don't know about you, but for me, the word triggers a disease that only old people get. But, in fact, it's quite common. Anyone can develop joint pain. Joint pain doesn't depend on genetic factors or age, and it's the leading cause of disability in the U.S.
Over 50,000 adults and 30,000 children in the United States have some type of arthritis. Usually the symptoms include not only pain and stiffness, but a reduction in motion. In other words, it can really affect your day-to-day activities.
There are 100 kinds of arthritis, osteoarthritis (where bones rub against eachother because the cartilage is worn down) being the most common.
Luckily, there are ways to deal with unhappy joints if they are already a reality in your life, and ways to prevent them from getting there in the first place. Most suggestions on this list could apply to both. Read on to find out about some practical ways to take care of yourself.
1. Exercise, Gently, Then Build Up
If your joints hurt, or if you're stiff, your best bet is to get up and take a break from what you're doing.
It's also important to get regular exercises, especially in cases of extreme joint problems. According to S.P. Yu and DJ Hunter, who studied cures for osteoarthritis at the Royal North Shore Hospital in 2015,"Obesity is the most important modifiable risk factor, so losing weight in addition to land-and-water based exercise and strength training is important."
Many experts recommend low-impact activities like swimming, biking, and walking, in the case of joint pain. Start gently, start slowly but do start. Do what most appeals to you. My favorite is just taking a stroll.
2. Capsaicin in Hot Peppers Reduces Joint Pain
This magical ingredient, found in high quantities in spicy peppers, works on all kinds of pain, including mild and extreme joint pain.
A specific study, examining how capsaicin affects unilateral knee osteoarthritis, yielded positive results.
In 2016, Dr. M. Abei and researchers from the University of Nottingham in the U.K. conducted a study on Dawley rats. They first injected a monosodium iodoacetate in the left leg, and after 4-5 weeks, received an intraarticular capsaicin injection into either the left knee or right knee control. They were then anaesthetized and put under a functional magnetic resonance imaging study.
They were discovered to have altered neural pain processing after capsaicin, perceiving less afterwards. If you start to feel aching joints, take a capsule of capsaicin or put some spicy peppers in your dinner.
3. Magnesium Relieves Joint Stiffness
Magnesium is not a substance we chat about much in the world of diets, but it is absolutely essential for your body.
Magnesium relaxes muscles and nerve endings, relieves stiffness and pain, and even helps with arthritis and the mineralization of bones.
Several studies published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who have a diet high in magnesium or took magnesium supplements had a higher bone density and stronger bones.
Additionally, some experiments reveal that a lack of certain nutrients, including magnesium, can exacerbate joint pain.
In 2016, two scientists from the Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas (P. Mehra and L.M. Wolford ) evaluated people with chronic temporomandibular joint pain.
They took blood assays of the patients, all women between 28 and 55 years old, to look for nutrient deficiencies from beta-carotene (vitamin A), folate, serum iron, ferritin, zinc, magnesium, and vitamins B1, B6, B12, and C. Each patient was deficient in at least 1 of the 10 elements, with an average of 3.3 elements. Often dietary counseling is key for people with joint pain, and not only for us ladies.
So, what can you eat to keep your joints from getting stiff? Green vegetables such as spinach and kale, beans, and nuts contain the magnesium your body needs.
4. The Alexander Technique Helps Joint Pain
Often, chronic joint pain develops in part due to a misuse of daily movements. This can have serious effects, such as a serious lack of physical mobility. Luckily, along with traditional physical therapy, there are ways to retrain your body.
The Alexander technique is one method of correcting the use of the body, which involves the active process of sensory awareness in everyday activities, including standing, sitting, and walking.
According to physical therapist Glenna Boston from the University of North Carolina, the Alexander Technique provides various benefits for those with joint pain, including: more freedom of movement without exceeding the margins of joint safety, a simple method of moving while protecting joints, confidence in the ability to move with greater ease, and improved posture with a feeling of support and lightness.
You can check out if there are classes in your area, and see if this holistic technique helps with day to-day-pain and functioning.
5. Turmeric Lowers Pain in Joint
Start rummaging through your spice cupboard, and see if you can find this dark yellow painkiller, also known as curcurma longa. If not, don't worry too much about it --- curcumin is pretty mainstream.
Many studies have found that the active ingredient in curcurmin can protect the joints from inflammation. It's even started to be commercialized to take as an alternative medicine.
In 2014, at the University of Brussels in Belgium, T. Appelboom and colleagues tested the effect of a product with curcuma extract, Flexoftyol, on painful osteoarthritis.
They examined 820 patients, who took 4-6 capsules a day, for more than six months. 110 Belgian general practitioners gave them a questionnaire that included quality of life parameters assessing patient experience.
Afterwards, they ran it by a professional statistician to check for accuracy.
Within the first six months, pain was reduced, articular mobility was increased, and overall quality of life was improved.
All test subjects had an excellent tolerance to the drug, and half were able to discontinue the other analgesic and inflammatory drugs they were using.
This is good news because non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs have negative side effects on some users. So, if your joint are aching, and you want to avoid seroids, incorporate curcumin into your dinner recipes, or see if the capsules are available.
Before you take curcumin, however, check with your doctor. If you are taking other blood-thinning medications, such as aspirin or statins, taking curcumin can cause internal bleeding.
6. Mindfulness Can Help You Feel Less Pain
Often when you have a painful situation, you must not only deal with the pain itself, but with how you perceive the pain.
What is mindfulness? Mindfulness therapy, a method for staying in the present moment and reducing stress, can help.
In 2007, E.K. Prahdan and researchers from the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore examined the effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction therapy on depression, psychological status, and disease activity for patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
Participants were assigned to two groups: The first was the MSBR (mindfulness-based stress reduction) group, where they attended an 8-week course, followed by a 4-week maintenance program.
The second was the control group, where they attended all assessment visits, and only did MSBR therapy free of charge after the study ended. In the MSBR group there were 31 people, in the control group 32, for a total of 63 participants.
After 2 months, no statistical differences appeared between the groups.
But then something strange happened. After 6 months, those in the first group experienced an improvement in psychological distress and well-being.
By the end of the study, there was a 35% reduction in psychological distress and pain. Everyone handles pain in different ways, but it may be worth it to not only treat the body, but also the mind, when experiencing joint pain.
7. Acupuncture Is Pain's Nemesis
Sometimes, of course, it feels nice to get a treatment that makes you feel good in the moment. Acupuncture is one of these.
Daniel Pendick, a writer for Harvard Men's Health Watch, reported that experts who looked through studies on acupuncture and joint pain found positive results. Examining results from 29 studies with almost 18,000 participants, they looked at a mix of research with acupuncture, “sham” acupuncture, or no acupuncture.
The conclusion? Overall, acupuncture reduces pain by about 50%. I don't know about you but, to me, a 50% reduction in pain sounds miraculous. The best thing is that acupuncture generally doesn't have any side effects.
Dr. Lucy Chen, a specialist in pain medicine and practicing acupuncturist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital confirms, “I think the benefit of acupuncture is clear, and the complications and potential adverse effects of acupuncture are low compared with medication.”