Top Ten Natural Remedies to Reduce Joint Pain & Stiffness
Looking After Your Joints
In my work as a pharmacist, I've noticed that one of the most common complaints people have is joint pain or stiffness, most frequently located in the knees, finger joints, wrists, and/or shoulders. This is a particularly important issue as it affects quality of life. Imagine living with constant pain or stiffness in the joints, or imagine waking up in the morning and realising you can't jump out of bed without wincing in pain.
Doesn’t sound very pleasurable or bearable, does it? The information below is designed to make you aware of various natural supplements that you can take to improve the overall health of your joints, no matter what your age might be.
Arthritic conditions can occur when the health of the joints is poor, leading to painful joints and reduced mobility.
Prevention vs. Cure
It’s the classic prevention vs. cure argument—it's better to prevent the condition than to cure it (although if you don’t prevent it, you must of course look into treating it). Maintaining joint health from a young age is the best option as it ensures you will be mobile even when you reach your older years. Furthermore, taking nutritional supplements are not only effective for preventing chronic conditions, but they also benefit the overall health of the individual taking them provided they are taken in relative quantities.
A lot of people with joint pain tend to be prescribed non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID's) such as Ibuprofen, Diclofenac, Naproxen, etc. as first line therapies to treat the pain associated with arthritis or other joint conditions. It’s a shame but the simple truth is that a few too many times the natural option is often overlooked.
So the question arises: If natural products can improve overall joint health, then why not give them a try before jumping to medications that are likely to have a lot more unpleasant side effects? I've worked as a pharmacist in the West Indies as well as in the UK and one major difference in medications prescribed for joint pain that I have noticed is that a lot of the Doctors on the Island of Dominica tend to prescribe Glucosamine & Chondroitin supplements as a first line therapy, or at the very least as a add-on treatment with NSAID's.
In the UK this is fast becoming more the case, but I feel its important for people to understand the health benefits of some natural supplements regardless of where they live so that they can take charge of their own health, and become experts in their own well being.
The anti-inflammatory properties of this herb have been known for quite a while now, especially amongst those practicing Ayurvedic Medicine. It has been shown to be of help in treating rheumatic and arthritic conditions, overall inflammatory conditions & asthma. The incidence of side effects is minimal, and as an added bonus, it is not known to interact with other medications so you can take it alongside your pain medication if you feel the pain is too severe to stop taking your medications altogether. As always it’s a good idea to discuss your medical decisions with your physician.
Willow is a herb which contains salicin (which is converted in the body to salicylic acid - similar to acetyl salicylic acid, the active ingredient in Aspirin), which helps with fever and pain. This allows it to be useful in inflammatory conditions overall, but it can cause stomach irritation, upset and bleeding (though to a lesser extent than Aspirin would).
Additionally, it can enhance the blood thinning effect of anti-clotting medications, so if you are planning on taking it on a long term basis, discuss this with a Doctor.
This, combined with Glucosamine, is the most prescribed or recommended supplement for improving overall joint health. Joints can become inflamed as a result of bones rubbing against one another. This can occur when the cartilage (connective tissue found in joints) becomes thin or worn down, hence there is little or no protective tissue at the end of the bones, and so the joints become inflamed causing pain. Chondroitin supplements have been found to directly increase the development of cartilage, hence reducing the inflammation.
The important thing to remember is that you wont feel immediate or quick relief, the chondroitin needs to build up in the body in high enough concentrations before a noticeable effect is seen or felt. Stomach upset can sometimes occur with chondroitin supplements, so don’t be alarmed, just something first (something healthy hopefully!!) and then take the chondroitin; this should reduce stomach problems.
This is a well known herbal supplement, and is a vital component in the formation of cartilage. It improves joint health by promoting cartilage generation, hence reduce inflammation and pain whilst improving mobility and possibly slowing the progression of joint conditions.
Although I have listed these separately, Glucosamine & Chondroitin combinations are the top-selling natural treatments for boosting joint health. Most health shops stock this combination, and well stocked pharmacies are sure to sell these too!!
Yes, I'm talking about the peppery kind. Cayenne is a type of pepper coming from the capsicum family. If you go into any well stocked pharmacy, you will see muscle rubs, creams & gels containing capsicum extract (commonly cayenne) which can be used to reduce pain associated with arthritis, sprains, back pain, headache and painful conditions affecting the nerves (ie. shingles, neuropathy, fibromyalgia, etc.).
Cayenne pepper taken orally in moderate amounts may actually reduce the stomach irritation that can occur as a result of chronic NSAID use which is a double advantage because if you are still taking NSAID's for the pain, adding this to your diet may protect your stomach against the side effects of NSAID's as well as providing some pain relief by itself. It can however interfere with the absorption of other medications, so check with your regular pharmacist or physician before taking this.
Make sure you wash your hands thoroughly after using the creams, muscle rubs or gels containing cayenne or capsicum extract as it can sting and burn if you rub your eyes.
This is a commonly used herb across the middle east, particularly in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh & Egypt. It is beneficial for diabetic patients (found to reduce blood glucose and cholesterol levels), those with inflammatory conditions (asthma, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease & bronchitis) and for those who have kidney disease.
Although it can aid lactation, it is best avoided during pregnancy. High doses can cause an upset stomach. Additionally, if you increase your intake of fenugreek on a regular basis and you are on anti-diabetic medication, it is best to let your doctor know as you may even be able to reduce your dosage of the medication (hence you are less likely to suffer from drug related adverse effects).
Bromelaine is the collective name given to a set of proteolytic enzymes (protein-digesting enzymes) which are naturally present in abundance in pineapples.Not only is it useful in inflammation, but it also helps with sinusitis, reduces healing time in the event of injuries & provides support for the immune system. So look up some tasty pineapple dishes and get eating - delicious and healthy!
Allergic reactions are the most common side effect, but you probably already know if you are allergic to pineapples! If you are on Warfarin, its best to consult with your Doctor before you increase your intake of pineapples as bromelaine itself may have a blood thinning effect, which would mean that your warfarin dose may need to be reduced.
7. Evening Primrose Oil
Evening Primrose Oil contains an Omega-6 fatty acid known as Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA), an essential fatty acid which has two very important functions:
- acts as an anti-inflammatory
- is also essential for the brain
Essential fatty acids are vital for growth and development and must be obtained from the diet.
Research supports its use in arthritic and rheumatic conditions (as well as quite a few others!!). It does not have any known side effects besides occasional reports of upset stomach, and has not been shown to interact with other medications.
8. Fish Oil
There are many many many benefits associated with taking regular doses of Fish Oil supplements. It is a rich source of the omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), both of which have anti-infl ammatory effects, hence are useful in joint pain. In addition, DHA is needed for brain function & healthy vision, whereas EPA supports the immune system, improves blood circulation and reduces blood clotting.
Overall, fish oil also reduces the incidence of myocardial infarction (commonly known as a heart attack) and stroke, lowers triglyceride levels whilst increasing 'good cholesterol' (high density lipoproteins) & may even help to lower your blood pressure. Other benefits have also been suggested but I wont go into them here as they aren't joint related!
Side effects are rare and manageable; you might have fishy burps but that’s about it!
9. Flaxseed Oil
Both Omega 3 & 6 fatty acids are present in Flaxseed Oil, and as such it can be used to reduce inflammation, improve pain in inflammatory conditions, improve circulation, decrease the incidence of dry skin in eczematous conditions, but it is considered less effective than fish oils currently due to lack of research in this area.
Give it a try to see if it works for you, you are often the first person that can tell how effective any supplement is!
Celadrin is found naturally in beef tallow (fatty acids present in beef meat), but is also available as oral supplements and in cream form. It has been found to have some use in inflammatory conditions, hence taking a Celadrin supplement could prove to help if you suffer from joint pain. With no known adverse effects and no interactions with other medications, this is a perfect adjunct to pain killing medication as a long term solution to improve joint health.
Well folks, I think that about covers it for now! If I learn about any more natural remedies I will update this article, or if you guys know of any post them in the comments section below so we can all benefit from the knowledge!
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