In a 2015 paper published in the medical journal Transactions of the American Clinical and Climatological Association, Leslie J. Crofford, MD wrote:
Unfortunately, treatments for chronic pain are woefully inadequate and often worsen clinical outcomes. Developing new treatment strategies for patients with chronic pain is of utmost urgency.
Chronic pain affects 20% of adults in the U.S., myself included. After multiple broken bones in my formative years and a diagnosis of reactive arthritis (an inflammatory autoimmune condition) in 2016, I set out on a journey to discover the best natural treatments for my joint pain.
After talking to countless health and wellness experts, reviewing research papers, and years of self-experimentation, I found a number of exercises, dietary restrictions, and supplements that significantly reduced my joint pain.
That’s not to say these are going to work for your specific condition–because pain is highly individual–but some of these may work for you.
Read on to learn more.
Foods That May Cause Muscle and Joint Pain
When you’re experiencing joint issues like arthritis, your body is in an inflammatory state, which can trigger pain and other symptoms.
What you eat may increase inflammation and have an impact on your pain levels.
Here are some of the most common foods that are known to cause joint pain for certain people …
Sugar and Joint Pain
Researchers have found that processed sugars trigger the release of inflammatory messengers called cytokines, which can have an impact on joint pain.
Long story short, avoid added sugar in foods and drinks if you’re dealing with pain in your joints and see if it makes a difference. At worst, you’ll probably lose a little weight, because added sugar is one of the biggest causes of weight gain.
Gluten and Joint Pain
Can gluten cause joint pain?
There’s not enough clinical evidence to this point to know for sure but it’s clear that people who are gluten sensitive have a different type of immune response to grain proteins.
When some, but not all, people with gluten sensitivity eliminate these from their diet, they may find their arthritis symptoms also improve. For some with gluten-related joint pain, symptoms may improve within weeks after ditching gluten. For others, it may take a little longer, and for many, the problem may not be gluten at all.
So long story short, it doesn’t work for everyone, but if cutting out gluten helps you feel better, then stick with it.
Dairy and Joint Pain
A study published in The Journal of Nutrition in 2015 found that eating dairy foods increased low-grade inflammation in a small sample of German adults.
Another study of more than 40,000 people with osteoarthritis (OA) found that those who ate more dairy products were more likely to need hip replacement surgery.
While more research is needed to better understand the link (if any) between consuming dairy and joint pain, we do know that a large number of people (over 2/3 of the world’s population) are unable to fully digest lactose, the sugar naturally present in milk products.
So it stands to reason that if you’re lactose intolerant and you have joint pain, it’s probably a good idea to avoid dairy products.
FODMAPs and Joint Pain
“FODMAP” stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols, a group of carbohydrates that are not easily digested and may ferment in the gut, leading to bloating, gas, water-retention, diarrhea, and inflammation.
Foods that fall under the FODMAP umbrella include wheat, certain fruits, vegetables and dairy products, and sugar alcohols, which are in some artificial sweeteners.
Studies have found a low FODMAP diet can alleviate symptoms of IBS and reduce inflammation by reducing the amount of foods in your system that feed problematic bacteria.
This can have a calming effect in the GI tract and may help reduce inflammation in other areas, including joints.
While there’s no peer-reviewed research to suggest a low-FODMAP diet improves arthritis symptoms, following the diet for a couple of months can help improve bacterial balance which, in some, may help to reduce inflammation.
Supplements That May Help With Arthritis-Related Joint Pain
Magnesium for Joint Pain
Magnesium strengthens bones; maintains nerve and muscle function; regulates heart rhythm and blood sugar levels; and helps maintain joint cartilage.
So does magnesium work for joint pain?
Low magnesium intake is associated with increased knee pain in people with osteoarthritis. The famed Framingham Heart Study found that eating foods high in magnesium and potassium increases bone density and may help prevent postmenopausal osteoporosis.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for magnesium is 420 milligrams (mg) daily for men 31 and older; 320 mg for women.
Side effects of taking magnesium are rare, and may include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, fatigue and weakness, according to the Arthritis Foundation.
Magnesium may interact with some diuretics, antibiotics, antacids and laxatives.
The research available on fish oil and joint pain is fairly limited; however, there are two studies that suggest fish oil may be a promising treatment option.
In the first study, researchers reviewed 17 randomized, controlled trials assessing the pain relieving effects of omega-3 fatty acids in patients with rheumatoid arthritis or joint pain. They found that taking a fish oil supplement for 3-4 months reduced joint pain intensity, minutes of morning stiffness, number of painful and/or tender joints, and NSAID consumption.
In the second study, a 12-week, double blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial, sixty patients with active rheumatoid arthritis (49 female and 11 male) underwent rheumatologist examination and disease activity score were calculated. Then patients were enrolled in this 12 week, double blind, randomized, placebo- controlled study where one group received a fish oil supplement and the other received a placebo. At the end of the study, researchers concluded:
Daily supplementation with omega-3 has significant clinical benefit and may reduce the need for concomitant analgesic consumption.
Studies have shown that curcumin, a compound found in turmeric supplements, may support patients suffering from autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and inflammatory bowel disease.
Curcumin inhibits these autoimmune diseases by regulating inflammatory cytokines and associated signaling pathways in your immune cells.
For those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, in particular, turmeric can reduce joint swelling and stiffness.
It’s important to note that curcumin has poor bioavailability alone. For maximum absorption, make sure you choose a turmeric supplement with black pepper extract.
Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are the building blocks for cartilage and appear to stimulate the body to make more cartilage.
There are conflicting studies on the efficacy of glucosamine and chondroitin, but based on what we know now it does appear that glucosamine and chondroitin can reduce the rate of collagen (joint tissue) degradation and symptoms of osteoarthritis, particularly in the knees.
Glucosamine and chondroitin’s effectiveness for rheumatoid arthritis isn’t as clear, as only a handful of studies have been conducted in relation to RA. …
One study found that for RA patients, glucosamine appears to have positive effects for pain. When compared to NSAIDs for pain relief, glucosamine has shown evidence to produce similar or improved pain reduction in RA patients as NSAIDs, without the side effects.
CBD Oil for Arthritis Pain
Phytocannabinoids in CBD appear to have neuroprotective properties that could play a role in pain management.
A study published in the journal Pain in December 2017 analyzed whether CBD could prevent osteoarthritis pain and joint neuropathy. Based on their findings, researchers affirmed that it did both because it decreased joint inflammation and served as a protectant to the nerves.
A research review called published in the European Journal of Rheumatology stated:
Preclinical and clinical studies support the therapeutic application of cannabinoids in the treatment of chronic pain, and to date, patients suffering from chronic arthritic and musculoskeletal pain.
Kevin Boehnke, Ph.D., research investigator in the department of anesthesiology at the University of Michigan’s Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center notes that ongoing preclinical studies in animals have demonstrated that CBD reduces pain and inflammation, and studies of CBD in humans show that it is well-tolerated and has few negative side effects. He states:
There are observational studies that ask why people use CBD and if it’s effective, and results tend to be quite positive. People report using CBD for anxiety, pain, sleep — all things that go hand-in-hand with chronic pain.
We need more clinical studies to help us better understand how, exactly, CBD affects pain and whether or not it’s a safe and effective long-term option.
Other Causes of Joint Pain
Can Antihistamines Cause Joint Pain?
According to the Cleveland Clinic, H2 antihistamines, which help with stomach issues and include Tagamet HB, Pepcid, and Zantac, are most likely to cause joint pain
H-1 antihistamines, which are typically used to treat allergies, are not as likely to lead to joint pain.
Cold Weather and Joint Pain
There’s not a lot of evidence around how cold weather affects joint pain but some theories suggest that the drop in barometric pressure caused by cold weather makes the tendons, muscles and the surrounding tissues in your body expand. This can cause pain, especially in joints affected by arthritis.
Can Seasonal Allergies Cause Joint Pain?
According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, there is no definitive relationship between food allergy and joint inflammation. But other doctors argue that since allergies cause inflammation, they may play a role in joint pain.
Joint Pain and Diabetes
If you have diabetes, you’re at increased risk of various bone and joint disorders like charcot joint, diabetic hand syndrome, osteoporosis, and osteoarthritis, says the Mayo Clinic.
And the American Arthritis Foundation says that people with arthritis have a 61% higher risk of developing diabetes.
Joint Pain After COVID
Research published in The Lancet in October 2020 found that almost 15 percent of COVID-19 patients report experiencing joint pain. And for many of those who already have arthritis, it appears getting the virus may exaggerate the symptoms as well.
However, the long-term impact of COVID on our bones and joints are still unknown, and joint pain often has other underlying causes.
If you’re experiencing joint pain post-COVID, go talk to your doctor and ask for a referral to a pain specialist or physical therapist who may be able to better help you.