There’s no single solution to arthritis pain relief, and everyone responds differently to treatment. Therefore, an individualized combination of strategies is often the most effective approach.
In the United States, 24% of all adults, or 58.5 million people, have arthritis.
Many people have eschewed the prescription pad for a successful pain relief program focusing on movement, dietary changes, and smart supplementation with well-studied, natural ingredients.
Are you in pain right now?
If you have chronically sore joints, you’re in good company. Each year, millions of Americans are told by their doctors that they have some form of arthritis. It may take a few weeks to start feeling the benefits of a pain relief program. Get immediate relief by purchasing a flexible gel-style ice pack at a sporting goods store or pharmacy. First, put a dish towel on the sensitive area, then the gel pack, then use a wide, 4- to 6-inch elastic bandage for light compression. This is the best acute pain reliever. It’s safe, cheap, and should be used before any type of systemic therapy.
Starting a Pain-Relief Program
Everyone is different. A pain-relief program should be modified based on your needs and your body’s responses to these strategies.
>> GET AN ACCURATE DIAGNOSIS. Some people assume their pain is a symptom of one condition but it’s not. Symptoms can overlap. If you self-diagnose, you may miss something very serious. Or, you may miss something that’s easy to fix. Arthritis and related conditions are actually made up of about 100 different diseases. Work with a medical professional who will spend quality time on the diagnostics.
>> AVOID INJURIES. Many people don’t realize that chronic, low-grade injuries—as well as acute, significant injuries—may cause joint problems and arthritis down the road. Gardeners, for example, are susceptible to arthritis in their fingers. Swimmers can develop shoulder pain. Even if you’re not an athlete and have no occupational risk, pay attention to the mechanics of how you sit and sleep. Something as simple as opening jars without an assistive device may cause joint problems later in life.
Your food and seasoning choices matter because they can either help or aggravate painful inflammation. There’s evidence that the Mediterranean diet—which is heavy on fruits and vegetables, and light on meats and sugary sweets—is beneficial. But, we’re all busy, so let’s simplify our approach.
>> DEVELOP A HEALTHY MEAL ROTATION. Get really good at making seven or eight meals, so you don’t stress about how to make them. Always keep the ingredients on hand. That way, you’ll be less tempted to buy fast-food fried chicken instead of cooking.
>> MAKE SALAD WITH OLIVE OIL ONE OF YOUR STAPLES. Uncooked olive oil, a Mediterranean diet staple, has numerous health benefits. But because olive oil starts to break down at higher temperatures, use coconut oil for sautéing. It has a similar fatty acid profile to olive oil.
>> EXPERIMENT WITH VEGETABLE LASAGNA. You get many nutrients from the tomato sauce, and you can hide a lot of vegetables in the lasagna.
>> COOK WITH TURMERIC OR GINGER ONCE OR TWICE A WEEK. These are delicious anti-inflammatory spices. Cooking the turmeric with oil releases the beneficial curcumin and makes it more bioavailable. As a general rule, It’s better to get these beneficial compounds through foods rather than supplements. You get only a tiny fraction of the health benefits from supplemental turmeric. Supplemental ginger works similar to aspirin in the body, and can cause the same type of stomach upsets.
>> RE-THINK YOUR BREAKFAST. The typical American breakfast is very high on the glycemic index. Swapping cereal, breads, waffles, and muffins for something healthier is often the biggest change people can make. Spread fresh avocado onto sourdough bread, add seasoning, and you’re good to go. It’s very convenient, and as a bonus, sourdough is fermented so it has a prebiotic component, which supports digestive health.
>> CHOOSE HEALTHY PROTEINS. Avoid the preservatives found in processed lunch meats. It’s also very clear that red meat isn’t good for you. Yes, grass-fed beef has fewer inflammatory omega-6s than grain-fed, but most of us don’t really need red meat at all. Better protein sources are beans, tofu, whole grains, and eggs. Smoothies made with whey protein powder are also good.
Exercise and Weight Loss
If you are overweight, staying active is vital to living a more pain-free life.
>> EVEN SMALL AMOUNTS OF WEIGHT LOSS MATTER. We now know that a 10-pound weight loss, or losing 10 percent of body weight in people who are heavier, can improve arthritis symptoms quickly or reduce the chance of developing osteoarthritis. If you gain just 10 pounds, you’re adding 50 to 60 pounds of additional pressure on your knees as you go up and down stairs. So it’s easy to see how losing weight is a preventive measure.
>> WALK, IF YOU CAN. Be smart about choosing your shoes and walking surface. Marble and steel surfaces are the hardest, then concrete and asphalt. Natural surfaces such as dirt or grass are the most forgiving. Try to keep your pace below four miles per hour. Any faster, and the forces on your knees are about the same as slow-speed jogging.
>> IF YOU CAN’T EXERCISE ON LAND, GET INTO THE WATER WITH A FLOATATION DEVICE. If your feet don’t touch the bottom, there are many moves you can do that are non-weight bearing. I’ve helped elite athletes recovering from injuries to maintain their fitness level by doing interval sprints in the deep end. You can often experience pain relief after just one session.
>> DIETARY SUPPLEMENTS When you’re hurting, it’s tempting to reach for something that promises fast relief. Make smart decisions or you may pay unintended consequences.
>> OVER-THE-COUNTER PAIN RELIEVERS such as acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen only mask symptoms. Even more concerning, there are now studies showing that acetaminophen is ineffective for treating osteoarthritis pain (and often toxic). If you have an acute situation, use these drugs at the lowest dose possible for the shortest period of time possible.
>> DIETARY SUPPLEMENTS can be a viable part of your pain-relief program. It may take a week or two to start feeling the benefits. Once people find something that works well for them, they tend to stay on these supplements for the long-term. So it’s important to know what you’re taking. Choose products with well-studied active ingredients in dosages that are known to be effective.
For example, it sounds kind of funny that eggshell membrane will help you. It’s something you’ve thrown away all your life, and probably haven’t yet tried as a supplement for joint health. Clinical studies show that a single, 500 mg daily dose of natural eggshell membrane, shown as “NEM” on labels, is enough to improve joint comfort and flexibility in as quickly as 7 to 10 days. Recent studies hypothesize NEM works by supporting a healthy anti-inflammatory response.
>> ACTIVE INGREDIENTS Determine the amount of active ingredients you might need. Look for the studies using the active ingredient. If you don’t understand the research studies, print them out and ask your physician or pharmacist for help. Determine the dosage which was used to get positive results. This will help you make sure the product you choose contains the amount of the active ingredient shown to benefit humans. If you don’t get the right amount, you may assume that the ingredient didn’t work well for you, when in fact you weren’t getting enough of it to be effective.
>> SAFETY FIRST Make sure the product you are considering is generally recognized as safe (GRAS). Despite being from natural sources, not all dietary supplements are without potential adverse effects. GRAS ingredients have a leg up on safety compared to the (often unknown) safety of other ingredients.
>> BLENDS Consider your options regarding proprietary blends. Exact ingredient amounts are not always available for proprietary blends. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the finished product will be ineffective, but it does mean that you’ll want to take other factors into account such as whether the product manufacturer regularly adheres to Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP on the label).
The beauty of approaching arthritis pain treatment from multiple angles and with multiple variables is that you’re not relying on just one thing to work. Your pain is as unique as you are. Your program should be modified to fit your needs and your lifestyle.