Joint pain can affect anyone but there is no getting away from the fact it is more likely to happen over the age of 45. That said, it really isn’t an inevitable sign of ageing. Nobody wants sore, swollen, achy and painful joints getting in the way of them enjoying life – and you shouldn’t have to when there is plenty you can do to prevent and/or control it happening. Here’s what we all should know.
A study carried out in 2018 from the orthopaedic clinic, Fortius Clinic found that the over 50s delay getting help for pain including joint and muscle pain for at least 16 months, despite the fact that two-thirds of the people in the study said it stopped them living their life to the full. Sixty-three per cent of respondents said the pain had stopped them from driving, playing sport or seeing their friends. One in 10 admitted it had affected their mental health.
One in 4 Britons risk early deaths from sitting still at their desks, researchers warn. In a report from Westfield’s Wellbeing Active only 12% of workers did anything to reduce the time they spent sitting down. A third said they struggled to exercise due to ‘lack of time’ or ‘low energy’ and just 16% manage to hit the amount of exercise recommended by the NHS.
Clinical Specialist Physiotherapist Valentina Roffi from Sprint Physiotherapy in London says:
The single most important thing you can do to improve the health of your joints is…move more!
Whether that is through regular exercise, going for a walk, taking the stairs instead of the lift or just avoiding sitting or standing in static positions for prolonged periods of time. ‘Motion is lotion’ and if we don’t move our joints will eventually feel stiff, weak and sore. I am seeing more and more people with work-related musculoskeletal complaints. It could be argued sitting has become the new smoking. Although still of value, we are moving away from advising people to invest in expensive ergonomic furniture. Instead, we are advising people to move more. For those who sit for long hours, introducing regular standing breaks and advising people to walk to the water cooler instead of having a bottle on their desks, for example. For those who stand all day, we suggest small sitting breaks.
Stress and sleep impacts on your joint health. Whilst stress levels are known to have direct impact on our mental health, it is often underestimated how it impacts on us physically. Stress hormones are the same hormones that our endocrine system produces when our bodies are exposed to pain and some joint complaints can be directly or indirectly driven by stress. Good sleep also has a positive impact on your joints. The physiological changes that occur during sleep and some of the hormones that are secreted are said to help our cells to regenerate and heal – having a direct impact on the regeneration of different tissues including bone, cartilage, and skin.
Carrying extra weight increases stress through several different bodily systems including our cardiovascular system, endocrine system and musculoskeletal systems (muscles & joints). Losing weight, or being at optimal weight, reduces unnecessary loading through our joints. For example, there is evidence to suggest that per each pound of weight lost, a reduction of four times the pressure is exerted though the knee joint per step.
No surprise then that weight loss has been shown to help in the management of joint osteoarthritis both in the reduction of pain and the ability to improve strength and mobility, ultimately making you healthier and happier.
It is important to spot and prevent potential ‘boom and bust’ behaviour. We often see the ‘weekend warriors’ who push their bodies to the limit as soon as they have time away from their desks. Not surprisingly, repetitive loading injuries are often a problem for people who do this as their musculoskeletal system is not able to tolerate the sudden bursts of activity when it is used to being sat at a desk five days out of seven!
Nutritionist and Head of Nutrition for Healthspan Rob Hobson says:
Being overweight will increase your risk of joint pain and exacerbate any existing joint conditions but if you are trying to lose weight or keep yours stable by restricting calories you run the risk of also restricting the range of nutrients your body needs for optimum joint health. If you are following a wheat-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan or vegetarian diet you could potentially be missing out on crucial joint-friendly nutrients (see below). Plus, our nutritional needs are different at different stages of life. As we get over 50, for example, we can find it harder to absorb certain nutrients so you might need supplements specifically formulated for this age group to bridge any nutritional gap.
While there is no one magical food or food group that can reduce pain, the components of some foods may be able to regulate or dampen down the inflammatory response. These components can be found in a typical Mediterranean diet – rich in brightly coloured fruit and vegetables, pulses, oily fish (like salmon, sardines and mackerel), seeds like chia seeds, nuts including walnuts and almonds, pulses and olive oil. Having a nutrient-rich diet will help to support joint health and cartilage (the joint-cushioning padding that covers the ends of bones at the joints). Eating too many processed foods rich in refined carbohydrates (including sugar) and saturated fats is likely to exacerbate the inflammatory process and make any existing joint problems worse.
Dehydration is a really common cause of joint pain and also the reason why many elderly people get dizzy and fall – potentially leading to joint and bone injuries. Dehydration can also lead to muscle cramps. How much fluid you need is largely dependent on you and your lifestyle or environment – someone in a hot climate and/or who exercises a lot needs more than someone who is more sedentary. The standard advice is to drink around 6-8 glasses of water a day, but this can come from many different types of fluids – not necessarily just water – including juices, teas, coffees and other soft drinks but also food. He points to ones with obviously high water contents like watermelon (92%) and cucumber (97%) but also ones you wouldn’t necessarily think about like yogurt (85%) and white steamed fish (77%).
There is increasing evidence to show spices like ginger, chilli and turmeric can go some way to relieving pain. The active ingredient in turmeric, for example, is curcumin a powerful anti-inflammatory antioxidant which has shown to dampen down pain and swelling in inflamed joints. The active components of the ginger root known as gingerols also exhibit anti-inflammatory effects. If you don’t eat much turmeric (and you would have to eat a huge quantity of curry to get the concentrated amounts used in the clinical trials) it might be an idea to take a supplement to get its full therapeutic value like Healthspan’s Opti-Turmeric*.
Medical Nutritionist Dr Sarah Brewer says:
Omega-3 is found naturally in fish (especially salmon, mackerel and herring), nuts and seeds and plant oils like flaxseed or olive oil have a pain-killing effect similar to that of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like ibuprofen. While diet should come first, the National Diet & Nutritional Surveys (NDNS) show the average intakes of fish are consistently low and nowhere near the recommended two portions of fish per week of which one should be oily. If you don’t get enough, supplementation is recommended. There are also vegan options available derived from algae.
Cannabinoid receptors are present in joint cartilage, synovial lining, underlying bone and peripheral nerves supplying joints. Activating these receptors might directly regulate the sensitivity of joint pain receptors. Increasingly being studied for its pain-relieving abilities, preclinical studies show CBD can suppress joint inflammation to help improve pain and stiffness. On a personal level, I also find it helps me to sleep better.
Glucosamine is an important nutrient found naturally in joints and connective tissue, although production falls with age. A 2018 meta-analysis published in the Journal of Orthopaedic Surgery and Research concluded glucosamine had a positive effect on relieving stiffness in the joints and chondroitin alleviated pain and improved functioning of the joints. I have seen first-hand the benefits of this pairing when I damaged the ligaments in my knees following a ski incident. My X-ray showed no obvious signs of osteoarthritis and the damaged ligaments healed well which I attribute to my long term use of glucosamine and chondroitin and vitamin C.
Rosehip extracts work in a similar way to aspirin by blocking a group of enzymes involved in triggering inflammation. The level of pain relief shown in four clinical trials was equivalent to that achieved with NSAIDS, paracetamol and aspirin, but with fewer side effects (like digestive problems including heartburn and ulcers). As a result, half of people involved said they were able to reduce their use of painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs when taking rosehip supplements.
Healthspan ChondroMax®* 60 tablets £13.45 and Glucosamine and Magnesium Gel* £14.95; Super Strength Rosehip* 90 tablets £14.95 and Super Strength CBD Oil* 30 capsules £34.95 all available from Healthspan*.
Containing extract of Devil’s Claw, Atrosan is a traditional herbal medicinal product used for the relief of backache, rheumatic or muscular pain, and general aches and pains in the muscles and joints, exclusively based upon long-standing use as a traditional remedy. It is thought to work by naturally calming the inflammatory process without redirecting inflammation to another part of the body. Atrosan Devil’s Claw Tablets 30 tablets £10.99 available from pharmacies and health stores.
Arnica which can help stiffness, sporting injuries and bruising. Arnica contains lactones which, in the herbal format, contribute to an anti-inflammatory effect. Atrogel Arnica Gel 100ml £9.99. Containing the fresh herb extract of Arnica Montana, Atrogel is a traditional herbal medicinal product for the symptomatic relief of muscular aches, pains and stiffness, sprains, bruises and swelling after contusions, exclusively based upon long-standing use as a traditional remedy
Puressentiel Muscles & Joints Roller* £14.99. Massage is known to help with muscle flexibility and pain reduction, essential oils including Lavender and Eucalyptus have been shown to relieve muscle and joint pain. Find them in this handy massage roller available from Amazon and independent pharmacies.
* Affiliate links