There’s nothing quite like the agony of joint pain. Caused by a number of factors—including inflammation, infection, injury, gout, medication, aging, obesity and more—joint pain can wreak havoc on one’s life, leading to restricted movement, insomnia, an inability to carry out daily functions, and, well, just plain misery.
The good news is that joint pain doesn’t have to rule your life—or lead to a sedentary existence. The first step towards diminishing the aches and pains that affect one in two Americans is to adopt a set of strategies that will support your ever-essential joint health. Here are 6 savvy ways to start protecting your joints today.
1. Maintain an ideal weight
Lugging around extra body weight can create major strain on your joints. In fact, for every extra pound you carry, there is “a fourfold increase in force load upon your knees,” Among Men reports. On the other end of the spectrum, those who are underweight may face serious joint pain as well. (“People who stay thin unnaturally may lose critical elements for conditioning the joints,” says director of the Texas Sports Medicine Alliance in Houston, Texas, Dr. Lonnie Paulos.)
The key, then, is to achieve—and maintain—a normal weight, which you can determine by calculating your BMI (in essence, the relationship between your height and weight). From there, depending on where you measure, it’s a matter of good old-fashioned housekeeping: Eating mindfully and healthfully, managing stress smartly and exercising regularly.
Which brings us to our next point:
2. Get—and stay—physically active
Exercise is critical to optimal health—including the health of your joints. Chief among the many benefits of physical exercise is the lubrication physical activity offers your joints.
“The joint is surrounded by soft tissue called the synovial membrane, which produces a fluid that acts like oil in an engine, allowing your bones to move past one another more smoothly,” the Arthritis Foundation affirms. Physical exercise “encourages the circulation” of this fluid, thereby supporting proper care of your joints.
Regular exercise also increases blood flow—which, in turn, supplies the synovial membrane with oxygen and nourishment—releases toxins, and strengthens the vital tissues surrounding your joints, including muscles, tendons and ligaments.
Already suffering from joint discomfort? Consider swimming. The “weightlessness from the water reduces impact on your joints,” Reader’s Digest writes, citing a Taiwanese study to demonstrate that working out in the water “significantly improves knee and hip flexibility, strength and aerobic fitness.”
And don’t forget about the power and importance of lifting weights: Joint instability can be the root cause of some osteoarthritis due to ligament laxity, and creating stronger muscles and structural support for your joints will help them last longer—and not suffer as much from the wear and tear of basic living.
3. Work wisely
Many people are slaves to their desks, spending hours hunched over their computers and giving rise to the term “office knee”—joint pain that’s caused by not moving (which is the antithesis of what humans are meant to d0).
While you can’t work on spreadsheets while running a trail, you can ensure that your work station is working optimally for your physical body.
“Adjust your seat to maintain the normal curve in the lower spine,” says certified personal trainer and senior editor of The Huffington Post. “You should be able to fit one or two fingers between your knees and the edge of the seat to alleviate pressure on the legs. Also consider using an alternative desk chair that incorporates movement or supportive cushions behind the lower back.”
Looking for more relief? Check out Dr. Kelly Starrett’s Deskbound: Standing Up to a Sitting World, which provides a number of creative solutions for the job hazards that strike modern workers.
4. Boost calcium and vitamin D intake
Consuming too little calcium not only heightens your risk for poor bone health, but it may also contribute to—or cause—joint pain. In addition to the inclusion of a calcium supplement, aim for a calcium-rich diet that includes organic milk, yogurt, cheese, peanuts and almonds. Happen to be dairy-free or allergic to nuts? Kale, collard greens, broccoli (and broccoli rabe), soybeans, figs, white beans and tinned fish—such as sardines and canned salmon—all pack in a powerful punch of this fundamental mineral.
Likewise, shoot to increase your vitamin D intake through vitamin-D dense foods (like mackerel, salmon, citamin D-fortified cereal and milk, eggs, shitake mushrooms and orange juice). Further, get in the sun a couple of times a week—a mere ten to fifteen minutes can help your body synthesize the D it needs.
5. Try acupuncture
In traditional Chinese medicine, osteoarthritis is considered a condition in which there is too much cold and dampness in the joints—which explains why people with arthritis (and other forms of joint pain) experience an aggravation of symptoms when the weather turns cold and rainy.
To remedy this—and to support joint heath in general—you may want to go under the needle: Acupuncture can be a highly effective means for reducing pain and swelling in the joints.
6. Add turmeric to your diet
Turmeric—that potent spice that stars in Thai, Indian, Pakistani and Persian cuisine—isn’t just a delicious addition to your dinner: Curcumin, its primary active compound (and the spice that turns curry yellow), has been used in Auyrevedic medicine for centuries. An antioxidant that shields cells from the normal but detrimental process of oxidation, it may also help to support joint health.†
“I use a lot of turmeric in my practice,” says director of integrative medicine at New York’s Northern Westchester Hospital, Dr. Minerva Santos. “It’s an amazing spice. Usually what I do is I make sure nothing else is going on, that it’s just plain old inflammation from wear and tear.”
Toss the pungent spice into salads, soups, stews and sauces, add a dash of it to your rice and vegetable dishes, drink it in a tea, or, for a sweet but spicy treat, shake a touch of turmeric on top of a sliced apple. Who knew supporting your joints could taste so luscious?
†These statements have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.