Joint pain is a fact of life for many people, and the older we get the more likely this discomfort becomes.
One of the most common causes is arthritis, which is normally treated with a range of different anti-inflammatory drugs.
Understandably, many sufferers of joint pain favor more “organic” and natural treatments over prescription medications, but what works?
In this article we’re going to take a look at some of the more promising options for the natural relief of joint pain, based on decades of research by scientists and doctors. (All sources at the end of the article).
That said, before trying any of these options it is advisable to seek advice from your medical practitioner. They are ideally placed to offer advice and guidance, and to warn you of any potential interference with ongoing medication.
With that said, let’s take a closer look at some promising natural treatments for joint pain…
Omega 3 oils are one of the best-known treatments for sore joints. The polyunsaturated fatty acids contained in fish oils are believed to naturally suppress inflammation.
They seem to do this by controlling the activity of prostaglandins – a group of compounds in the body playing a central role in the onset of inflammation.
Fish oils are notable because of the wealth of scientific research that has been carried out on its effects.
For example, in one study 450 patients with neck or back pain were provided with 1200mg of fish oil per day. 75 days later the participants were sent a survey asking for their experiences.
The scientists found that 80% of those involved in the trial were “satisfied” with improvements in their joint pain, and 88% stated they planned to continue taking the supplement.
In other studies, volunteers have been supplemented with fish oils alongside their normal intake of prescription medications.
Experts have found evidence of reduced use of anti-inflammatories in those individuals taking fish oil supplements. This suggests their potency for reducing joint discomfort, leading to a reduced reliance on traditional drugs.
There are a number of different ways to increase your intake of the two core fatty acids – known to scientists as DHA and EPA.
Arguably the best way is to make oily fish a regular part of your diet. Most experts now recommend that we should all enjoy at least one portion of oily fish each week to maintain levels of omega 3 oils in the body.
As an alternative, some foods are now fortified with omega 3 oils, while many people opt to take cod liver oil capsules instead.
For people that don’t like fish or don’t want to prepare it these capsules can be an easy way to top up your levels of DHA and EPA.
While DHA and EPA are the best-known fatty acids for reduced inflammation, interest is growing in another option – Gamma Linoleic Acid.
One study, for example, found that supplementing with GLA “reduced the number of tender joints by 36%” and “the tender joint score by 45%”.
Further research involved the provision of GLA for an extended period of time to patients with arthritis.
Not only did the experts find “statistically significant and clinically relevant reductions in the signs and symptoms” of arthritic joint pain, but these continued to improve over the twelve month trial period.
Pleasantly, unlike fish oils, GLA is typically sourced from plants.
This makes it an ideal solution for vegetarians and vegans. Common sources of GLA include evening primrose oil and borage / starflower.
As with fish oils, GLA is also available in capsule form from many health shops should this prove easier.
An intriguing method of treatment for sore joints comes in the form of capsaicin – the active ingredient in chillies.
Some recent research suggests that a topical application of capsaicin may have pain-relieving properties for sufferers of arthritis-related pain.
It has also proved popular among participants because it is so safe and simple, though of course the mildly uncomfortable sensation of heat differs from one person to another.
In one study 113 patients either received topical capsaicin or a placebo for a period of 12 weeks.
Those individuals applying the capsaicin were 27% more likely to show improvement in their pain when compared to the placebo group.
Elsewhere arthritis sufferers were asked to apply capsaicin ointment to sore joints four times a day for four weeks in total.
Interestingly, the researchers found that individuals with osteoarthritis experienced reductions in both joint tenderness and pain, though oddly individuals with rheumatoid arthritis experienced no benefit.
While the research for capsaicins effect on joints is still in it’s infancy, there is some evidence to suggest that this natural remedy could offer exciting possibilities for the future, and has already demonstrated benefits in a number of individuals.
Lifestyle can have a number of impacts on joint pain, and by making small changes it is possible to experience measurable improvements in discomfort.
The first and most heavily-researched aspect is that of exercise. Most individuals suffering from joint pain naturally reduce their exercise regime, instead preferring to rest the joints.
Research suggests, however, that this may be a mistake. While exercising with sore joints may not be pleasant, studies indicate that over time exercise can have a markedly positive impact on swelling and pain.
In one study women suffering from arthritis were divided into two groups, one of which was encouraged to take part in low intensity aerobic exercise three times a week for twelve weeks. The other group did not exercise and acted as the control. At the end of the trial period the exercise group demonstrated not just reduced joint pain and fatigue, but also improved aerobic activity.
A similar study took place but used strengthening exercises rather than aerobic activity. At the end of the six month trial the group undergoing exercise reported a 22.5% reduction in pain and 17% improvements in overall physical ability.
These two studies highlight an element that has been repeated over and over in the scientific community. In brief, it seems that any kind of exercise has the potential to improve joint pain, be that aqua aerobics, walking, or resistance training.
The key, therefore, is to find a form of exercise that you enjoy and can commit to. Thereafter, simply keep at it. As research has shown, the beneficial impact of exercise on joint pain declines once exercise ceases, so it is important to maintain your exercise regime for the long term.
A second lifestyle element, often associated with exercise, is that of weight loss.
Examinations focusing on joint pain have suggested that people who lose roughly 5kg of body weight reduce their odds of developing arthritis in their knees by over 50%.
This makes perfect sense of course; a loss of body mass means less pressure on the joints which, in turn, maintains them for longer.
Elsewhere, women with existing joint pain were recruited onto a weight loss plan. The experts found that reducing their body weight by 10% improved their knee function by an impressive 28%.
In other words, if you’re suffering from ongoing joint pain then now may be the perfect time to start restricting your calorie intake with a view to shedding excess body fat. Your joints will thank you!
Lastly, a number of alternative therapies have been investigated with reference to joint pain. Of these, acupuncture is well researched and seems to display some very positive signs.
A “meta-analysis” is where scientists group together the results from many different studies, with a view to providing a collective overview of the findings so far.
Just one of these has been completed on the impacts of acupuncture on joint pain. The analysis in question combined the results of five different studies, involving 1,334 different patients.
The findings indicate that not only was acupuncture “superior” to placebo treatments, but furthermore that these differences were “significant” even some time later, suggesting that acupuncture may offer long-term benefits.
Another meta-analysis aimed to assess exactly which joints seem to benefit from strongly from acupuncture. They concluded that the most likely benefits are to the lower back, neck and knee discomfort.
As is clear, the scientific community treats the problem of joint pain seriously. A wealth of research has been carried out, and a number of very hopeful-looking treatments have been identified.
If you’re starting to suffer from joint discomfort then, in consultation with your doctor, you may want to investigate some of the natural options on offer.
Before long, you could be experiencing reduced pain and greater flexibility, without the need for traditional painkillers or anti-inflammatories.
The nutritionists at Simply Supplements wrote this article. To learn more about the joint supplements they offer please visit their website.