Evidence also supports the use of acupuncture for some pain. “The available evidence suggests acupuncture is a safe and reasonable referral option that may provide short-term pain relief for patients with symptomatic knee osteoarthritis and chronic low back pain,” says Wang. “Acupuncture may also have a beneficial role for fibromyalgia. However, the available evidence does not support the use of acupuncture for treating hip osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.” Talk to your healthcare provider before trying any new approaches to managing your pain.
The Role of Diet. For people with overweight and obesity, losing weight can reduce stress on joints (particularly weight bearing joints like the hips and knees). Losing as little as 10 to 12 pounds has been found to improve pain and function for people with arthritis.
There are no supplements, foods, or special diet plans that can cure conditions that cause joint pain, but a healthy dietary pattern may help keep joints healthy and might even reduce pain.
Unstable atoms called free radicals can damage cells and lead to inflammation. “Antioxidants in plant foods help neutralize free radicals,” says Melissa Prest, DCN, RDN, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Dietary patterns rich in plant foods may therefore help reduce inflammation.”
For rheumatoid arthritis, for example, the Arthritis Foundation recommends including plenty of fruits and vegetables along with fatty fish, whole grains, peas and beans, nuts, and olive oil.
Diet Don’ts? Several diets marketed to people with joint pain restrict intake of foods like dairy, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. “These foods are part of a recommended healthy dietary pattern associated with cardiovascular health, lower inflammation, and overall wellness,” says Prest. Highly restrictive diets are unproven and could potentially lead to dietary imbalances.
Contrary to popular belief, research does not support the idea that foods from plants in the nightshade family (like tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, and peppers) are inflammatory. High intake of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (found in nuts, seeds, and plant oils) has also been suggested to be inflammatory. But studies in healthy human adults have found that increased intake of these common fats does not increase concentrations of inflammatory markers.
There is limited evidence regarding the effectiveness of the various supplements marketed for easing joint pain. Even “natural” supplements can interact adversely with medications, so be sure to talk to your pharmacist or doctor before taking any supplements.
If you are experiencing joint pain, get an accurate diagnosis and start treatment as soon as possible to help minimize symptoms and prevent the disease from getting worse. Meanwhile, keep in mind that a dietary pattern good for overall health may also help relieve joint pain.
Try these tips for avoiding or managing joint pain:
- TALK TO A DOCTOR: Diagnosis is essential for management and slowing progression. Ask whether you would benefit from a referral to a Registered Dietitian.
- MOVE: Physical activity is likely to help ease pain from osteoarthritis. Try low-impact, joint-friendly Tai-Chi, walking, swimming, and bicycling.
- EAT WELL: Consume a healthy dietary pattern that includes plenty of plant foods and is low in refined grains and added sugar.
- DON’T FALL FOR ADS AND FADS: Most joint supplements and special “anti-inflammatory” or “immune system” diets are unproven, and they can carry health risks. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist.