While most joint pain is caused by one of the many forms of arthritis, it also can develop due to injury or other conditions. Often, joint pain comes with swelling and inflammation, stiffness and loss of range of motion. It’s extremely common, especially as we age. In fact, arthritis, a common cause of joint pain, is the leading cause of work disability in the U.S. and it affects about one in four adults overall.
Whether it’s caused by inflammatory conditions (such as lupus, psoriasis or gout), general wear and tear, injury or other immune-related conditions, joint pain can have a big impact on your well-being and keep you from participating in the activities you enjoy.
Fortunately, many conditions that cause joint pain can be treated with medication, physical therapy and alternative therapies. Although there is no cure for arthritis, by following an anti-inflammatory diet and making some lifestyle changes, you may be able to ease joint pain and reduce further symptoms.
What is an anti-inflammatory diet?
An anti-inflammatory diet involves eating a variety of foods that can reduce inflammation throughout the body. While there is no miracle diet for painful joints, researchers have found that certain foods may fight inflammation and help to reduce joint pain.
A diet rich in whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, fish, whole grains, nuts, beans and healthy fats such as olive oil is not only great for overall health, but can also help manage joint pain. These foods are all the principles of the Mediterranean diet, which is frequently touted for its anti-inflammatory and disease-fighting powers.
Consume more omega-3 fatty acids
Studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial in reducing pain and inflammation associated with inflammatory arthritis. They are an important part of the membranes around our cells, and they play a part in the healthy function of many body tissues. Omega-3s also help decrease inflammatory cytokines. These are molecules that send signals to ramp up your immune system.
Omega-3 fatty acids are found naturally in cold-water fish such as salmon, herring, sardines and tuna. They also can be obtained through eating plant foods such as walnuts, flax seeds and chia seeds – but note that but it takes a greater quantity of these foods to obtain the levels found in fish.
Aim for color in your diet
Colorful fruits and vegetables are loaded with antioxidants. Antioxidants are beneficial compounds that work to prevent free radical damage to healthy cells throughout the body. By helping to reduce damage to cartilage, antioxidants may help reduce joint pain and inflammation.
Antioxidants are abundant in foods that contain vitamins A, C and E and selenium. Good sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits, mangoes, strawberries and red peppers. Spinach and kale are good sources of vitamin E. Quercetin (found in apples and onions) is another antioxidant that can help protect cells against oxidative damage, particularly in high intensity exercise. Cherries and tart cherry juice are also linked to reduced pain and inflammation.
Spice it up
Spices are a great addition to an anti-inflammatory diet. Not only do they contain powerful antioxidants, but some spices are known to inhibit inflammatory pathways in the body. Garlic, for example, can help fight inflammation and prevent cartilage damage. Turmeric may help reduce joint pain and swelling. Some studies have shown that ginger not only can reduce inflammation but may also reduce osteoarthritis symptoms. Cinnamon offers antioxidant compounds to help fight free radical damage.
Try incorporating spices into your diet regularly and often for biggest impacts. You might enjoy adding a curry dish with turmeric to your usual meal rotation. Or try sipping on ginger tea or cinnamon tea in the morning or evening. Garlic is easily added to dishes and brings bold flavor in addition to anti-inflammatory benefits.
Other ways to manage joint pain
Studies have shown that fish oil (or an omega-3 fatty acid supplement) may help support joint comfort, as well as provide relief for joint pain and stiffness. Other research has found that glucosamine and chondroitin supplements may help with joint pain and improve function. Although these supplements don’t work for everyone, they are generally safe to try as they don’t have any significant side effects.†
If you’re unable to get enough omega-3 fatty acids through food alone, a fish oil supplement may also be helpful. Always be sure to inform your physician if you are taking or planning to start taking supplement products.†
Manage your weight
Being overweight can put extra pressure on joints. Weight loss eases joint pain and improves the quality of life of adults living with it, especially if they are overweight or have obesity. Following a healthy balanced diet and getting movement in each day can be helpful.
Limit inflammatory foods
There are some foods that may increase inflammation and worsen joint pain. Inflammatory foods such as saturated fats (found in animal products like meat, dairy and butter), sugary foods and beverages, highly processed foods and refined carbohydrates may aggravate arthritis and joint pain. Try replacing these foods with anti-inflammatory foods whenever possible.
Limit alcohol consumption
Alcohol’s inflammatory effects can aggravate both degenerative joint pain from osteoarthritis and auto-immune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.
There’s growing evidence that certain foods and nutrients can improve the symptoms of joint pain by fighting inflammation. Eating a balanced diet rich in plants, fiber and anti-inflammatory foods such as those in the Mediterranean diet, may help people living with joint pain by easing their symptoms and reducing pain and swelling.
†These statements have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.