If you’re one of the millions of adults who relies on taking pain-killers such as Aspirin frequently to help manage ongoing joint or bone pains, you’ve come to the right place to learn about safer alternatives to taking these drugs. Whether you feel it in your low back, shoulder, knees or elsewhere, a number of natural remedies have been shown to help relieve symptoms of joint pain— including stiffness, reduced range of motion and difficulty walking.
Some research shows that about one-third of all adults experience some type of joint pain every month. (01) Which areas of the body are joint pains most likely to occur? These include any areas involved in repetitive movements or that take the brunt of the body’s weight, such as the low back, neck, knees, hips, shoulders and ankles.
Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you might choose to leave your joint pain mostly untreated, or on the other hand to resort to daily medications to cope with the aching and throbbing. Some people experience sharp pain with each move, making something as simple as carrying groceries a daunting task, while others only experience symptoms every now and then. Whatever the cause of your uncomfortable joint pain, it’s definitely worth giving several natural treatments a shot. These can include a combination of supplements, diet changes, exercises and salt baths to help naturally ease swelling and inflammation.
Common Areas of Joint Pain
Joints are the tissues that connect bones and help support movements throughout the body. Joint pain affects millions of people every single day and is a symptom tied to dozens of different disorders. While it can sometimes feel like your joint pain is originating from a muscle or surrounding bones, it’s actually most likely coming from the inflamed joints and surrounding soft tissues. Muscle aches or bone pains can sometimes occur along with joint pain, making matters worse. All of these symptoms may happen at the same time if an underlying health condition, such as osteoporosis or autoimmune disease, is causing the painful symptoms. For example, when someone has osteoporosis— when bones become less dense and more likely to fracture—the condition can also contribute to severe back pain, poor posture, and reduced ability to walk or stand properly.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, joint pain is most likely to develop in one or more of the following areas: (02)
- The neck and top of the back/spine. Neck pains are commonly tied to poor posture, such as “forward head posture”, sleep related issues or stress.
- The jaw (such as with the condition TMJ)
- The knees
- The hips
- The low back, which is commonly related to pain of the Sacroiliac joint (SIJ). Studies have found that in about up to 77 percent of people who experience consistent back pain that cannot be contributed to another disorder, and in about 89 percent of pregnant women with back pain, inflammation of the SIJ is the root cause of symptoms. (03) The SIJ as a “load-transferring” mechanical junction located between the pelvis and the spine that can take the brunt of the upper body’s weight when someone has poor posture, or it can become aggravated due to childbirth or conditions like arthritis or an injury.
- 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 potential 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. Those with arthritis develop pain due to a complex neurophysiological processes that lead to the generation of inflammation and painful sensations. (04)
- 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
Conventional Treatment of Joint Pain
Treatment for your joint pain will depend on how severe the symptoms become. In most cases even when drugs are used to lower symptoms your doctor will also recommend lifestyle changes to prevent pain from returning or worsening. These include exercising or changing your current fitness routine, stretching, physical therapy, possibly losing weight, and addressing any underlying health condition. If your symptoms are temporary (acute joint pain), such as due to an injury, then your doctor will likely recommend taking an over-the-counter pain-killer to reduce inflammation while you heal. These can include the drugs: Aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen sodium (Aleve).
When pain is ongoing and very strong (chronic joint pain) then your doctor might recommend taking prescription nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). This can include the type called Cox-2 inhibitors (celcoxib), or even an opioid drug in some severe cases. More rarely antidepressants and antiepileptic drugs may be used to block painful signals in the body and stop muscle spasms contributing to pain. Medications to reduce pain can help improve quality of life but need to be used carefully and usually as a last resort, since they can cause side effects for some such as: gastrointestinal bleeding ,indigestion, loss of bone mineral density, interactions with other medications and even addiction.
6 Natural Remedies for Joint Pain
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. (05) Add two cups of salts to warm bathwater 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 apply 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 mildy-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. (06) 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 contributes 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 flow 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 is the type of protein found in our bodies that helps build joints and keeps connective tissue strong. Collagen contains 19 different amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, that have essential roles for 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 Enzymes— A great alternative to Aspirin is taking proteolytics 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. (04)
- 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 & Vitamin D – 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. Should you choose to take a supplement, make sure it also contains vitamin D to help your body absorb the most calcium possible.
- 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, 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 “butanedisulfonate” 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 a diagnoses. Rule out any conditions that might be causing your pain or worsening an existing condition, such as an autoimmune condition, arthritis or another problem. Your doctor can discuss potential causes of your symptoms (like your diet, stress levels, exercise routine, etc.) in order to help tackle the root problem. In the mean time try to rest any area that is very inflamed or recently injured. If pain comes and goes for you, work on gently stretching and staying active in order to prevent stiffness from worsening.
Final Thoughts on Joint Pain
- 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.
- Joint pain most commonly occurs in areas of the body like the knees, shoulders, neck, low back, hips, ankles and hands.
- Natural ways to lower joint pain symptoms include: treating an underlying health condition, stretching and exercising, resting the area if needed, using essential oils, applying heat or warmth, diet modifications, supplements and possibly losing weight if needed.
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