If you or someone you love is experiencing joint pain, this definitive guide to joint pain relief is something you need to read. It will provide you with ways to achieve joint pain relief for you and/or your loved one.
This guide will cover everything related to joint pain including possible causes for it, the joints that can be affected by it, prevention and treatment.
Whether the joint pain is acute (short term) or chronic (long term), sudden onset or has gradually gotten worse, this guide can help you understand how to experience relief in your joints.
This guide is NOT a diagnosis; only your doctor can diagnose your joint pain. It is merely a tool to help you participate in your healthcare and take ownership of your treatment for joint pain.
Causes of joint pain
So, what causes joint pain? The causes are varied. Below is a list of some of the causes of joint pain; we will discuss each more in-depth as we go forward with this guide:
- Autoimmune diseases
Sprains usually happen while playing sports, hiking, or participating in other hobbies. However, they can happen at work too. With a sprain, you may not be able to bear weight on the joint or may have pain, stiffness, swelling, and even bruising. With a strain, you will likely experience pain, decreased range of motion, impaired mobility, muscle weakness, swelling, and bruising. A sprain is an injury that causes stretching or tearing to a ligament while a strain causes injury to a muscle.
Tendonitis is when the connective tissue between the bone and muscle becomes inflamed. The symptoms of tendonitis are pain, tenderness, and mild swelling. Joints that are most affected by tendonitis are the elbow, shoulder, and knee. This condition is caused by repetitive motion for the most part, although it can be caused by a sudden injury. Factors that can contribute to this condition are age, type of occupation, and sport participation.
Fractures or breaks (while many people think these are two different things, they are not) are terms that doctors use interchangeably. They can happen due to sports injuries, car accidents, falls, or osteoporosis.
Autoimmune diseases can attack healthy joints and cause pain. These diseases include rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, lupus, systemic scleroderma, and polymyalgia rheumatica. Although fibromyalgia is not an autoimmune disorder, it is being mentioned here because its symptoms can mimic one. Common symptoms amongst autoimmune diseases are fatigue, joint pain and swelling, skin problems, digestive problems, abdominal pain, recurring fever, and swollen glands. Your doctor will order lab work and other diagnostic tests to determine which you have and then discuss treatment options with you.
Arthritis is the most common reason for joint pain. There are several forms of arthritis including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and gout. All these cause joint pain that range from being severe to mild and from being short term to long term. The symptoms include joint pain, swelling, loss of mobility, and in some cases, recurring fever.
Medications can also cause joint pain. Some medications in the following categories can cause joint pain: antibiotics, cholesterol-lowering medication, osteoporosis medication, asthma inhalers, breast cancer medication, acne treatment, anti-depressants, nerve pain and seizure medication and estrogen and blood pressure medication. Always ask your doctor and pharmacists about the side effects of any medication and read the pamphlet that is included with the medication.
Fibromyalgia causes widespread pain, sensitivity to touch. It causes pain in trigger points, easy fatigue and sleep problems.
Joints that can be affected
Joint pain can affect any part of the body. Some examples are listed below:
Any of these joints can be affected by arthritis or by other issues that cause joint pain. The common symptoms of joint pain are swelling, inflammation, loss of mobility, tenderness, stiffness, fatigue, joint redness, joint warmth, and in some cases depending on the condition, a recurring low-grade fever.
There may be other symptoms that you or a loved one are experiencing that are not listed here. It is a good idea to make a list of all of your symptoms to take with you to the doctor. Also, write down all the medications and supplements that are in your system while you are experiencing joint pain. Take note of the timing of your joint pain. Is the pain worse first thing in the morning? Does it come and go? Do you have stiffness? Does the weather affect your pain and/or stiffness? All of this information gives your doctor clues as to what is happening and what diagnostics may be needed to properly diagnose the issue.
Speaking with your doctor
If you are experiencing joint pain that does not go away, you should see your doctor.
Before your appointment date arrives, make a list of the symptoms you are experiencing, what makes those symptoms better or worse (including activity, the weather, sleep, stress, etc), questions you may want to discuss with the doctor, and all of the medications and supplements you are currently taking. Making this list will ensure that you do not forget something and that your doctor has complete information on your joint pain and symptoms.
For the best results when it comes to your health, you need to participate in your health care. That means speaking frankly with your doctor and providing a complete picture of your symptoms and your health history. I know people think, well, the doctor has the education and my chart-he or she should know what medications I take, etc. but keep in mind that you are not their only patient. Doing your part is beneficial to you so that you and your doctor can come up with a plan that addresses your joint pain together. Not only should you speak with your doctor about your symptoms; you should also ask for all of the possible solutions for your joint pain-both traditional and alternative-once a diagnosis is made.
Diagnostic testing and what to expect
Your doctor may run blood work and have x-rays or other imaging done on the joint in order to find out what is going on. Imaging can include MRIs and ultrasounds.
Blood may be drawn to check for levels of inflammation, the presence of antibodies, and the status of the liver and kidneys. The doctor may use a needle to draw fluid from the joint for analysis. Testing is used both for ruling in and ruling out conditions that can contribute to joint pain.
Your doctor may recommend that you see a specialist such as a rheumatologist as well. They both may work together in order to form a treatment plan for you. Remember, you should play an active role in making that treatment plan by asking questions regarding side effects and drug interactions, and expressing other concerns you may have like how long this treatment plan is to be used-a few weeks, months, or long term. You should also inquire about how soon improvements in your joint pain can be expected and if the length of time spent on the medications you are being recommended can cause other health issues.
Treatments vary depending on the cause and severity. They range from holistic to pharmaceutical and from short-term relief to long-term solutions. In rare cases of extreme joint damage, surgery may be required.
Below is a list of treatments for joint pain:
- Hot and cold therapy
- Over-the-counter medication
- Prescription medication
- Essential oils
- Massage therapy
- Diet modification
When it comes to hot and cold therapy, there are several choices. For hot therapy, you can use clay or rice packs that can be heated in the microwave. You can also wash your dishes by hand as the hot water will help ease pain and stiffness. For cold therapy, there different types of ice packs that can be used. Cold therapy is used to reduce inflammation. Reducing inflammation can decrease stiffness and improve mobility. Speak with your doctor for specific instructions for use of hot and cold therapy.
Splints can stabilize a sprain or strain and can help with a fracture depending on how bad the fracture is. By stabilizing the joint and supporting it, you reduce the risk of further injury and damage. Splints, or in some cases slings, can help rest the joint from use. These can often be purchased at pharmacies or department stores without a prescription, but you should not use them without guidance from a healthcare provider. Remember that immobility can also lead to joint pain, reduced mobility and muscle loss so be sure to contact a physical therapist after any period of immobility to learn how to reverse those negative effects.
Over-the-counter medications such as Ibuprofen or acetaminophen can relieve pain and reduce inflammation. However, if the pain and stiffness are severe, these may not work well. Also, compare the ingredients of the normal medicine versus the one marked for arthritis as you will likely find that the main difference is the strength of the medication and the price. You should also be careful not to combine medicines like Tylenol with other medications that contain acetaminophen as doing so can be harmful to the liver. Other over-the-counter options include capsaicin creams, sprays, and rubs for muscles and joints. Some of these can contain lidocaine which is a pain reliever.
Pharmaceutical drugs can offer more relief for those with severe pain and stiffness; however, the pain killers can be addictive. Below is a list of pharmaceutical drugs that are used for joint pain and stiffness:
- Anti-inflammatories include Celebrex, Dolobid, Relafen, Clinoril, Meloxicam, and Piroxicam. These anti-inflammatories can cause side effects such as gas, bloating, heartburn, nausea, stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, dizziness, headache, difficulty concentrating, lightheadedness, and issues with balance. Other risks can include heart attack or stroke (especially if you have a history of either), and an increased chance of ulcers and bleeding in the stomach or bowels. Use of these medications can also induce allergic reactions that can range from a rash and itching to difficulty breathing.
- Pain medicines include Tramadol, Percocet (a combination of oxycodone and acetaminophen), Vicodin, and Oxycodone. These are all addictive. Doctors usually only prescribe these to people with severe joint pain who can’t use or do not get relief from anti-inflammatories. The common side effects of these opioids are constipation, drowsiness, nausea, vomiting, muscle pain, anxiety and irritability. You should not take opioids with alcohol or some antidepressants so make sure to tell your doctor what medications you are currently taking. As with anti-inflammatories, there is always the chance of having an allergic reaction.
- Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) include Hydrocychloroquine, Leflunomide, Methotrexate, Minocycline and Sulfasalazine-although there are many others, these are the most commonly used to treat the inflammation associated with and slow the progression of rheumatoid arthritis. Common side effects are upset stomach and, in some cases, increased vulnerability to infection. Each one of these drugs has their own individual side effects as well.
- Biologics help reduce inflammation and halt joint damage. These drugs are usually reserved for people who have not responded to other treatments. However, there are risks and side effects involved with these drugs as well. The risks are a greater chance of an infection, a reaction at the injection site or a reaction with infusion. Side effects can include headache, nausea, fever, cough, muscle aches, shortness of breath, chest pain, diarrhea, fatigue, urinary issues, vision problems, dizziness, decreased appetite, bleeding and bruising easily.
- Corticosteroids can quickly relieve your pain and inflammation; however, before you rush to your doctor to get some, you need to know the risks and side effects of these drugs. Side effects when taken long term include increased appetite leading to weight gain, water retention, mood swings, difficulty sleeping, muscle weakness, blurred vision, easily bruising, more body hair growth, acne, high blood pressure, increased blood sugar levels, stomach irritation, immune system suppression and eye issues like glaucoma or cataracts. One other thing to note about corticosteroids is that you cannot take yourself off of them. You need to be slowly weaned off of them with guidance from your doctor.
Now that you know some of the risks and side effects compared to the benefits of these drugs, participate with your doctor and specialist to form a treatment plan that fits your needs. Discuss the risks and side effects, provide a list of medications and supplements you are currently taking and come up with a plan to address your goals for pain management that you can live with.
Some pharmaceutical drugs that you are taking for other issues can cause joint pain. The categories of drugs that can cause joint pain are statins, antibiotics, osteoporosis, breast cancer, nerve pain, blood pressure, estrogen and asthma medications, acne treatments and anti-depressants, If you must be on these medications long term, you should speak with your doctor about alternatives.
Supplements that may help with inflammation and pain are listed below:
- Glucosamine levels in our bodies drop as we age. Glucosamine helps maintain healthy cartilage in joints. The most common side effects of glucosamine supplements are nausea, heartburn, diarrhea, constipation, and increased gas.
- Omega-3 fatty acids assist the body in producing chemicals that help control inflammation. The side effects of overconsumption of omega-3 fatty acids are burping, indigestion, flu-like syndrome, back pain, chest pain, rash, constipation, upset stomach, vomiting, and change in taste.
- Green tea has powerful anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory properties that can help ease stiffness caused by inflammation. When consumed in very high doses, side effects can include headaches, nervousness, sleep problems, vomiting, diarrhea, irritability, irregular heartbeat, tremor, heartburn, dizziness, ringing in the ears, convulsions, and confusion.
- Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium from food and supplements, helps the muscles move, helps the nerves carry messages and contributes to the immune system functioning properly. In combination with calcium, it helps prevent brittle bones. The easiest way to get vitamin D is from the sun. To overdose on vitamin D, you would have to take doses higher than 4000 units daily. Doing so could cause the following: hardening of the arteries, nausea, vomiting, poor appetite, stomach pain, constipation or diarrhea, high levels of calcium in the blood, bone loss and kidney failure. As a lot of people are deficient in vitamin D, these side effects are not common.
- Boswellia Serrata may reduce inflammation; however, more studies are needed to determine its usefulness and side effects.
- Turmeric/curcumin may reduce inflammation for osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Possible side effects are nausea and diarrhea.
- Gamma Linolenic Acid is an omega-6 fatty acid that may reduce inflammation for conditions such as arthritis, nerve damage due to diabetes, eczema, and high blood pressure, however; there need to be more studies done on this to support its effectiveness. As gamma linolenic acid may slow blood clotting, people with bleeding disorders should speak with their doctor before using this. Phenothiazines (a class of drugs used to treat schizophrenia) may also interactwith gamma linolenic acid which could cause an increased risk of seizures for some people.
- Chondroitin naturally occurs in the body, but some people use it as a supplement to help with osteoarthritis. Side effects are rare, but some have reported having headaches, mood changes, rashes, hives, and diarrhea. Some people who are allergic to shellfish have reported an issue of hypersensitivity. Those with asthma or prostate cancer should not take chondroitin supplements without talking to a doctor first as some research suggests that its use can result in an asthma exacerbation and increased risk for prostate cancer. Also, people who have bleeding disorders should talk with their doctor first as chondroitin supplements could thin the blood.
- Ginger, according to some studies, can reduce inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. More studies need to be done to confirm this. It does not seem to help stiffness or range of motion. It has also been used as an analgesic for pain. Possible side effects areincreased bleeding especially for people with bleeding disorders and decreased blood sugar levels. If you have a bleeding disorder or are diabetic, you should speak to their doctor about using ginger before using it.
There are many essential oils that may help with joint pain. A few are listed below:
- Evening primrose
Some companies like Grenada Nut Co mix two or more of these essential oils with the goal of increasing its effectiveness. For example, MegRelief contains nutmeg and peppermint oil.
Each of these oils contains anti-inflammatory properties.
To use essential oil, put the oil on your skin and gently massage it into the affected area. These are not oils that you ingest-they are for topical use only. Nutmeg as a spice can be ingested and there are plenty of recipes that contain some of the above-listed ingredients, but the oils are not meant to be substituted for the spices.
There have been studies done that show the benefits of essential oils-the benefit most relevant to this guide is joint pain relief. More studies need to be done to see what other benefits essential oils can provide.
Meditation can help quickly reduce stress levels and it is easy to do for most people. It can be done anywhere which makes it a great tool to help reduce joint pain. When you become stressed, your joint pain may intensify. Practicing meditation can reduce stress and thereby reduce joint point.
Meditation is simply focusing your attention on one thing and eliminating or blocking out everything else. This will allow you to feel more centered, peaceful, and calm. The benefit doesn’t end when the meditation session ends either. It can help keep you balanced and centered all day. If you are having trouble falling asleep, try meditation to quiet your mind just before bed. It is important to find your “happy place” where you can be calm and peaceful. It can help reduce your pain and your blood pressure.
Massage therapy can help reduce stress and relax tight muscles, and thereby reduce pain. It also helps encourage blood flow. You can ask your massage therapist to use essential oils for joint pain in certain areas to help further reduce the joint pain. There is very little risk to massage therapy but if you are concerned, speak with your doctor about your health conditions and the benefits and risks of massage therapy.
There are massage products on the market, but it is better to set up an appointment with a licensed massage therapist before buying anything as they may have suggestions on products you could use at home in between appointments.
Your diet plays an important part in your overall health as well as your joint pain reduction. There are certain foods that increase inflammation and certain foods that reduce inflammation in the body. Your diet can also help reduce high blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and the risk of heart disease and stroke.
One diet that is recommended for all of these issues is the Mediterranean diet.
Foods that the diet suggests to avoid if you have joint pain are as follows:
- Fried and processed foods
- Processed sugars
- Refined Carbohydrates
- MSG (found in prepared Asian food, soy sauce, fast foods, prepared soups, soup mixes, salad dressings and deli meats).
Foods that the diet suggests to eat to reduce inflammation are as follows:
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Low-fat dairy products
- Citrus fruits
- Whole grains
- Spices and herbs such as cayenne pepper, nutmeg, ginger, peppermint, and turmeric
You should also strive to eat foods that are high with antioxidant as they can help remove toxins from the body that can lead to inflammation and other illnesses. Some foods that are high in antioxidants are listed below:
- Dark chocolate
- Goji berries
- Red cabbage
A well-balanced diet not only can reduce joint pain, but can help you maintain a healthy weight which will reduce stress on your joints, heart, and other systems of the body.
Foods that often allow for use of a variety of spices and herbs are baked goods, stews, soups, sauces, gravies and meats. Be sure to incorporate some of the spices listed above that help decrease inflammation. Do not be afraid to experiment with spices. Search for recipes online if you need some suggestions.
Exercise is good for the body; it helps maintain a healthy weight and keeps the joints moving. It can also help reduce stiffness and promote mobility and increased range of motion. You may think that exercise will cause the pain to be worse and it may hurt initially if you are going from not moving at all to beginning an exercise regimen, but in the short term and over time, it actually helps reduce your pain levels. Start out slowly and build up gradually. You should contact a physical therapist or personal trainer for guidance if needed. It is best to engage in low-impact exercise as it causes less stress on the joints. Some good low-impact exercises are walking, yoga, tai chi, and swimming. Walking and swimming are good cardio exercises and yoga and tai chi help with muscle toning.
Other benefits of exercise are listed below:
- Strengthens muscles
- Helps maintain bone strength
- Increases energy
- Improves balance
- Reduces stress
- Improves sleep quality
Exercise is a great benefit to the body in many ways. Before starting an exercise routine, speak with your doctor to make sure your healthy enough to do so. Begin each exercise session with a warm up and end each session with a cool down (include stretching). Warming up and cooling down helps reduce the chances of injury to muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints.
You should exercise at least three times per week. Check with your doctor, physical therapist, local gyms, orthopedic clinics and YMCA for recommendations for exercise programs for people with joint issues such as arthritis. If you can’t find any programs in your area, speak with any of the aforementioned sources about getting one started. Don’t wait for the program to start to begin exercises, however. In the meantime, start with walking. Take it slow and easy until you get your joints less stiff and then add more time to the walk.
If you want to purchase equipment for exercise and have joint issues, speak with your doctor and/or a trainer about machines that would best fit your needs with the least amount of impact on your joints. In fact, if you have a gym in your area, try out a few of the machines before you purchase one. If you don’t want to buy equipment, you don’t have to-there are plenty of exercises that can be done at home without special equipment to help your joints.
Prevention should start before you have joint pain and it is best to start when you are young. Some suggestions for prevention of joint pain are listed below:
- Maintain a healthy weight by eating a well-balanced diet so that you do not put added stress on the joints and bones of the body. A well-balanced diet will also ensure that you get the vitamins and minerals you need to keep your bones healthy and strong and reduce the chance of osteoarthritis.
- Exercise at least three times a week to maintain a healthy weight, strong muscles and healthy bones throughout your lifetime.
- If you play sports or have a physically demanding job, use the provided safety equipment to prevent injuries.
- When driving a vehicle, pay attention to the road to minimize the chances of a serious auto accident.
- Keep repetitive motions to a minimum as they can contribute to joint pain.
- Pay attention to how you lift and move things. Keep your back in a neutral position and bend at the knees, not the waist. This can help prevent injuries and keep your joints healthy and strong.
- Get proper rest so that you are alert and aware of your movements when walking, lifting, etc.
If you are just starting to experience minor joint pain or have severe joint pain, you can still use the methods above to keep your joint pain from getting worse.
Prevention is the best place to start so that you have less of a chance of experiencing joint pain. Prevention should be started at a young age. If you have children, educate them about the benefits of exercise as it relates to reducing the risk of joint pain and illness in years to come. Teach them, by example, how they can take an active part in their own healthcare including how to speak with their healthcare providers about health goals that they have for themselves. It is extremely important that you participate in your own health care, asking questions and seeking information so that you can make informed decisions.
Even if you encounter joint pain, know that there is hope. You can help reduce the amount of pain by following this guide. Eat a well-balanced diet, exercise, and follow the treatment plan that you and your doctor have established. The treatment plan can be a mix of traditional and holistic medicine so that you can achieve the best results without becoming addicted to pharmaceutical drugs for pain management. By being an active participant in your own health care, eating right, exercising, and talking with your doctor about medications and treatments, you can optimize your chances of being healthy throughout your lifetime. It could be the difference between being fully mobile and well at age 90 and being immobile and dependent on others-the choice is yours.