Natural Joint Pain Relief
Joint pain can sap the enjoyment and happiness from your life as you search for relief.
It can occur in anywhere—in your fingers, knees, elbows, necks, wrists, hips, jaw, and even in the vertebrae in your back or the bones in your feet. It may feel like a knife or needle, or your joint may feel as if it is on fire.
All animals with bones and joints can suffer from joint pain. Even a tyrannosaurus was found to have a bad case of gout in its forearm!1
Despite the number of miracle cures available, because there are so many different causes of joint pain there is no one form of treatment that works in all cases.
By understanding why you have the pain, you can select appropriate natural treatments to find relief.
Note: I am not a doctor or physical therapist, although I do suffer joint pain caused by inflammation (spondyloarthritis) and fibromyalgia, so I understand the frustrations when searching for pain relief.
Please see your doctor to identify the cause of your pain, and determine which of the following treatments are appropriate for you.
Causes of joint pain
Many medical conditions have joint pain as a symptom. Knowing the underlying reason lets you choose appropriate treatments.
Don't guess - a doctor can help you diagnose the cause of your pain.
Joint pain locations
Which joints hurt you the most?
Pain from physical damage
Osteoarthritis - This occurs naturally as we age, when the cartilage that surrounds the joint is worn away. Incorrect posture and repetitive movements can result in an earlier onset due to uneven wear in the joint.
Osteoporosis - Bones become soft and spongy in the joints of osteoporosis sufferers, causing pain.
Bone fractures and breaks - Especially in the smaller bones of the hands and feet, breaks and fractures around joints are painful.
Poor blood flow - A reduced blood supply to the bones and cartilage in joints, results in pain and sometimes inflammation.
Pain from inflammation
Rheumatoid arthritis - An autoimmune disease that attacks joints and other organs, causing inflammation, and eventually leading to the breakdown of cartilage in the joints, and bones fusing together.
Spondyloarthritis - Another autoimmune disease, similar to rheumatoid arthritis, which mostly causes problems with the spine, fusing the joints together. It can also affect all other joints and soft tissues. (I've recently been diagnosed with this, after 30 years of symptoms.)
Gout - The build-up of crystals caused by the inability to properly break down food (an overproduction of uric acid), causes inflammation in and around joints.
Bursitis and tendinitis - Swelling of bursae, sacks of fluid allowing tendons to slide smoothly over joints, and swollen tendons can put pressure on nerves, resulting in repetitive strain injuries (RSI) and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Bursitis and tendinitis are caused by overuse, repetitive movements, soft-tissue injuries, or by rheumatoid arthritis.
Sprains, sprains and dislocations - Tearing or overstretching muscles or ligaments, or dislocating a joint, causes painful inflammation in and around the joint.
Pain may remain when such an injury heals badly, especially if the joints are not realigned properly, and the surrounding tendons/muscles evenly stretched and strengthened.
Soft tissue inflammation - Illnesses and infections can cause inflammation in the soft, connective tissues. Because the tissues are connected to the joints, it feels like the joint itself is hurting.
- Lyme disease - caused by bacteria commonly carried by ticks.
- fibromyalgia - symptoms include pain and stiffness of the joints and muscles.
- sciatica - a pinched nerve in the lower back can lead to hip, knee and ankle pain.
- systemic lupus erythematosus - an autoimmune disorder affecting the soft tissues. 90% of lupus sufferers report joint pain as a symptom.2
- multiple sclerosis - another autoimmune disease, where inflammation damages nerves, which can lead to pain in and around joints.
Treating pain caused by infection
Bacteria and viruses can cause inflammation and pain in the joints, including: staphylococcus, streptococcus, pseudomonas aeruginosa, and dengue fever.3
If left untreated, these severe health complications. It is important to treat the underlying cause of joint pain caused by infection using appropriate antibiotics and antivirals.
Relieving pain naturally
A multi-path approach is best.
- Ensure a good blood supply to the joint for mobility, repair of tissue damage, and to encourage good bone health.
- Decrease pressure on the joint to reduce uneven wear and tear, decrease the load on the joint when overweight, and avoid pressure-induced inflammation.
- Supplement with vitamins and minerals to ensure good bone and cartilage health.
- Reduce inflammation using a variety of natural treatments.
Movement and exercise
Exercise is often last thing people want to do when they are in pain.
However, it is important for regaining and maintaining mobility in the joints.
- warm water swimming or water aerobics - perfect for overweight or elderly joint pain sufferers, swimming or moving gently in warm water reduces the pressure on your joints and keeps them moving.
- recumbent bicycle - reduces the body-weight your knees, as well as strain on your back and wrists.
- tai chi - gentle forms of tai chi, performed slowly, in a warm environment help sore joints and muscles. It is one of the most recommended forms of exercise for fibromyalgia sufferers.
- physical therapy - assisted physical therapy can ensure you move correctly and reduce strain on the painful joints.
Specific posture correction exercises may help with neck, shoulder, back, hip, knee and foot pain, especially to treat joint pain caused by a compressed sciatic nerve.
Pain relief through diet and weight loss
Maintaining a healthy weight prevents excess pressure on joints. An important part of weight loss is exercise, starting gently, such as with warm water swimming.
A diet full of fresh fruits, vegetables, good quality carbohydrates and protein provides many of the vitamins and minerals the body needs for repair and maintenance.
Vitamin C fights inflammation
Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) is great for the immune system and has also been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects. High levels of vitamin C are found in lemons and limes.
Helpful supplements, vitamins and minerals
So many miracle supplements are advertised, but few have been supported by scientific research. The following have been proven to be of benefit for bone and cartilage health.
- Vitamin D and calcium - necessary for bone repair and bone strength. There is increased research into the link between long-term vitamin D deficiency and chronic pain. Calcium is needed to let the body absorb vitamin D3 in tablet form.
- Omega-3 fatty acids - found in oily fish, walnuts, flax seed and canola oils, helps maintain and repair cartilage. Especially important for people with spondyloarthritis.
Anti-inflammatory herbs and spices
Several spices and herbs have been claimed to have anti-inflammatory or disease fighting effects. Although these have not yet been thoroughly scientifically proven, many early studies have highlighted positive effects.
Plus they are a tasty addition to your diet!
- Make a curry paste from scratch using black pepper, turmeric, cayenne, fenugreek, cardamon, coriander, garlic and ginger.
- Marinate meat with black pepper, ginger, garlic and lime juice (also shown to reduce inflammation).
- Make a herb and spice rub with rosemary, oregano, ginger, thyme and black pepper.
- Add garlic, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, basil, oregano and thyme to chilli and pasta sauces.
- Make your own seasoned salt - add herbs, black pepper and dried garlic to salt crystals. Mix before pouring into a spice grinder.
- Make a herb butter to serve with hot bread, or bake a savory herb loaf with thyme, rosemary, basil and oregano.
- Make sweet ginger muffins or cookies using glace or crystallized ginger.
- Add ginger, garlic and basil to stir-fries.
- Make ginger tea from fresh ginger slices and lemon juice.
- Sprinkle cinnamon on your cereal, over pancakes, and in your coffee.
Herbs/Spices working against pain
Effect when eaten
Increases nutrient absorption, especially curcumin (turmeric).
Anti-inflammatory, increases blood flow.
Anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, antioxidant.
Anti-inflammatory, increases blood flow.
Anti-inflammatory, antifungal, antibacterial.
Anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral.
Reduce pain from inflammation, anti-nausea.
Anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antibacterial.
Anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antibacterial.
Anti-inflammatory, improves memory function.
Other natural treatments
Heat or cold therapy - for acute inflammation, applying ice to the joint helps to reduce the blood flow, the swelling, and subsequently reduces the pain.
For longer term, low-grade inflammation in joints, a heat pack or warm towel applied to the joint, can stimulate blood flow to the area and encourages cells to repair the damage. Heat often also allows the joint to move more freely, reducing pain.
Massage - increasing blood flow to a joint can help with damage repair and relieve pain. It also reduces the stiffness in the surrounding muscles.
Capsaicin - found in chili peppers, this blocks the substance that transmits pain signals. Applied as a gel, patch or cream, it can give pain relief to sore joints.
Menthol-based "sports" rubs - gels or creams containing methol can have a positive effect on joint pain.
Elevation - in the same way that ice helps acute inflammation by reducing blood flow to the joint, elevating the limb and joint above the heart can provide some relief.
Supportive bandages and braces - these can provide extra support to tired muscles, prevent incorrect movements, improve blood flow by increasing the warmth around the joint, and provide stability to breaks, strains and dislocations. All of which can provide pain relief.
Foot insoles - shoe insoles with adequate arch supports and/or metatarsal arch supports can help reduce foot, ankle, knee and hip pain, caused by flattened arches and improper posture.
Stress reduction techniques
Mindfulness meditation has been shown to have a positive effect on pain management. Learning to relax can help reduce muscle and joint pain.
Scientifically unsupported natural treatments
Glucosamine and chondroitin supplements are often suggested for joint pain. But several double-blind studies of these supplements treating knee and arthritis joint pain, have shown no benefit above placebo tablets.4,5,6
Drawbacks of common pain medications
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and corticosteroids have long been used to treat pain and joint pain, but have a number of bad side-effects. The three most common adverse effects include:
- kidney damage - Dr. Ian Main, a nephrologist from Melbourne once explained to me that "NSAIDs nibble away at the kidneys". The damage builds up over time and can not be repaired.
- stomach and gastric damage - anti-inflammatory medication and many anti-rheumatic drugs must be taken on a full stomach to prevent damage which can lead to ulcers or perforations.
- heart and blood supply problems - common anti-inflammatory arthritis medications have been shown to increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes, leading to global recalls.7
- Pity a Tyrannosaur? Sue Had Gout, NYTimes, 22 May 1997
- Lupus Foundation of America, How lupus affects the muscles, tendons and joints
- Pub-med search for Septic arthritis bacteria
- Effects of glucosamine, chondroitin, or placebo in patients with osteoarthritis of hip or knee: network meta-analysis, S. Wandel, P. Jüni, B. Tendal, E. Nüesch, P.M. Villiger, N.J. Welton, S. Reichenbach, and S. Trelle (University of Bern, Switzerland), BMJ Clinical Research, September 2010, 341:c4675.
- Use of complementary and alternative medicine among patients with radiographic-confirmed knee osteoarthritis, K.L Lapane, M.R. Sands, S. Yang, T.E. McAlindon, and C.B. Eaton (Virginia Commonwealth University), Osteoarthritis Cartilage, January 2012, 20(1):22-8.
- Clinical efficacy and safety of glucosamine, chondroitin sulphate, their combination, celecoxib or placebo taken to treat osteoarthritis of the knee: 2-year results from GAIT, A.D. Sawitzke, H. Shi, M.F. Franco, D.D. DUnlop, C.L. Harris, N.G. Singer, J.D. Bradley, D. Silver, C.G. Jackson, N.E. Lane, C.V. Oddis, F. Wolke, J. Lisse, D.E.Furst, C.O. Bingham, D.J. Reda, R.W. Moskowitz, H.J. Williams, and D.O. Clegg (University of Utah), Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, August 2010, 69(8):1459-64.
- COX-2 Selective (includes Bextra, Celebrex, and Vioxx) and Non-Selective Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs), US Food and Drug Administration, 2011
What natural joint pain treatments have given you relief and why?
Let us know in the comments below!