‘Joint pain’ can mean so many different things to different people. Arthritis, osteoarthritis (OA), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), inflammation, reactive arthritis, injury, repetitive strain injury, all of these can cause joint pain. And just as the causes can be plentiful, the joints involved can be different too- while RA sufferers may find their hands are more swollen and painful, those with osteoarthritis may notice more that their knees or hips are starting to stiffen up. An injury will clearly affect a specific joint, while a more generalised inflammatory condition may affect multiple joints.
Arthritis itself is a term that means ‘inflammation of the joint’, and while there are over 100 kinds of arthritis, there are many things they have in common. The common factors in many joint conditions are the combination of inflammation and tissue damage. And the important thing to remember when dealing with joint problems is that joints, like any living tissue, are capable of repair.
Factors that contribute to joint pain or stiffness may include:
- Diet I: Generally eating a ‘cleaner’ diet high in plant and fish oils and good vegetables is less inflammatory, while eating a diet high in fried foods, red meats, dairy and sugar can contribute to increased inflammation, and therefore joint degradation and pain.
- Diet II: Foods can contribute to inflammation, especially when we are sensitive to them. Reactive foods for those with joint problems are commonly wheat/gluten and the solanaceae/nightshade family (tomatoes, potatoes etc), but this is highly individual. Anecdotally and clinically, I have seen so many patients restore good joint function after identifying their food triggers and eating a diet more aligned with their own needs.
- Acidity: Increased acidity is detrimental for the joints, and moving towards a more alkaline/alkalising diet can improve joint pain considerably.
- Being overweight: This puts more pressure on your joints, but also increases inflammation in the body.
- Age: There is no doubt that age is a major factor in reduced joint mobility and increased pain and stiffness. Osteoarthritis is often called ‘wear and tear’ arthritis. This is where cartilage inside the joint wears away and bone spurs may develop.
- Hormonal changes: Women going through menopause often notice significant achiness in the joints due to declining oestrogen levels. Other hormonal conditions such as low thyroid function can also contribute to joint pain.
- Nutrient imbalances: Lower than optimal levels of specific nutrients can impact on joints, especially essential fatty acids, but again this is highly individual and other nutrients such as magnesium and vitamin C may also be implicated.
- Too little or too much exercise! Too little movement will reduce bloodflow to your joints, while too much high-impact sport can cause joints to ‘wear out’.
- Immune imbalances: If the immune system is imbalanced this can contribute to reactive or post-viral joint pain. Some forms of arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis are autoimmune conditions.
- Identify food triggers and eliminate them.
- Alkalising the body with a fresh wholefoods diet, add in apple cider vinegar and reduce stress (highly acidic!).
- Hydration – aim for at least 2L pure water daily.
- Nutrient balance; identify and treat any nutrient deficiencies.
- Some targeted supplemental support may include glucosamine & chondroitin to rebuild cartilage.
- Physical therapies; see a physiotherapist, osteopath, shiatsu practitioner, chiropractor or massage therapist for more specialised support and strengthening exercises.
- Massage with herbal and essential oils (eg. Comfrey, Arnica, Hypericum) to improve blood flow to the area and reduce inflammation. Topical use of both Arnica and Comfrey has significant scientific research to validate its use.
- Hot Ginger Packs have been shown in clinical research to reduce joint pain and increase mobility.
- Hormonal support if appropriate; talk to your natural health practitioner about options.
- Exercise; especially gentle movement such as walking, swimming, yoga, tai chi.
- Support immune balance and seek support from your natural health practitioner if there is an immune system component to your joint pain.
- Herbal therapeutics: Herbal therapies provide a wealth of treatment options, with an abundance of good clinical research. Turmeric, Devil’s Claw, Boswellia, Kumerahou, are all excellent for reducing joint pain, and there are many more. Herbs are always best prescribed on an individual basis by a registered practitioner.
The take home message has to be: You are not STUCK with joint pain. Your joints are living tissues that are responsive to your environment, your diet, your lifestyle and nutritional status. While for some people addressing just one of the points above may magically resolve their joint issues, more often it is a combination of changes that lead us back to moving easily in the world.