If you’re living with aching knees, sore muscles, painful hips and problems with your tendons and ligaments, you’ll know just how much joint pain can impact your quality of life and prevent you from doing the things you love. Recent research shows that Australians have the highest burden of musculoskeletal conditions such as osteoarthritis, tendinitis and rheumatoid arthritis that impact the joints – and there’s been a sharp rise in the number of diagnoses since the year 2000.
There can be an array of different causes for this type of pain and while it’s always best to talk to a health professional about the best ways to reduce it for individual circumstances, Starts at 60 is looking at some of the most effective ways of reducing joint pain at home.
Most people know that heat and cold packs can sooth pain, but they can work in different ways and knowing exactly when and how to use a specific pack can make all the difference. For example, only use a cold pack if you’ve just sustained an injury as a way of reducing swelling and inflammation. Cold packs are also useful when it comes to numbing acute pain from strains or sprains.
On the other hand, heat packs are going to be more effective in the days after someone experiences joint pain and work by increasing blood flow to the area to provide ongoing pain relief. It’s also important to know that slapping on a heat or cold pack won’t fix everything and that you need to continue moving the muscles to reduce joint pain. Something as simple as going for a short walk can often do the trick.
There’s plenty of supplements on the market and while many of them do promise to relieve pain, the only supplement Arthritis Australia endorses to assist with rheumatoid arthritis pain is fish oil. Certain types of omega-3 fats, found in fish oil, can reduce inflammation from arthritis. These haven’t been tested on all forms of arthritis but can be helpful with rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis and psoriatic arthritis.
In most cases, there’s very little scientific evidence that supplements can assist with painful symptoms of arthritis. While studies are often conducted, they’re typically of poor quality, inaccurate or exaggerated, which can give false hope to those trying to manage their pain.
There’s moderate evidence to suggest gamma linoleic acid, typically found in evening primrose oil, borage, starflower seed oil or blackcurrant seed oil works in treating rheumatoid arthritis pain. Evidence remains limited when it comes to the effectiveness of krill oils and phytodolor.
Researchers say there’s moderate evidence surrounding treatments including S-adenosyl methionine, rosehip, Pine bark extracts, phytodolor, Indian frankincense, Green-lipped mussel, ginger, avocado-soybean unsaponifiables and acupuncture for treating osteoarthritis. It’s always advised to speak to a health professional before taking any supplements to ensure they’re right for you and not interacting with any other medication.
Joint pain can leave people feeling like they’re unable to move, but the CEO of Arthritis Australia Andrew Mills previously told Starts at 60 that doing the right type of exercise will help improve mobility and flexibility of joints, which can ultimately lead to less pain.
People may need to work through some initial pain when they first start exercising. Activities such as walking, muscle-strengthening exercises, Thai chi, cycling, yoga and swimming are some of the best ways to improve mobility and reduce pain in the long term. Those who are overweight may find water-based activities in warm water particularly helpful because there’s less impact on the joints.
“The take home message is keep moving. Keep physically active,” Mills said. “Physical activity will not make things worse, it will make things better.”
For some types of joint pain, it could actually be your choice of footwear that’s making pain worse and finding a pair of shoes with the right support can make all the difference. The Rush University Medical Center says that in many cases, thongs and sand shoes with flexible soles are easier on the knees than clogs or even special walking shoes.
Try to pick flat, flexible footwear to reduce the load on the knees, while other research shows that rocker bottom shoes can strengthen back muscles and reduce lower back pain. It’s vital to discuss your footwear options with a health professional as different shoes may be offered for different types of joint pain.
While it may not be recommended for all types of arthritis and joint pain, researchers say whole-body massages could help ease pain and improve mobility in patients with arthritis of the knee. Research published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine in 2018 shows patients who received a whole-body massage once a week for two months saw significant improvements in their arthritis pain and may be an alternative to medications that cause adverse side effects.
Meanwhile, another study found that 23 per cent of people with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis use complementary and alternative therapy in addition to prescribed medication to manage pain and that 64 per cent said that the therapy reduced their pain intensity, sleeping patterns and activity levels.
Still, Better Health Victoria warns that while massage may help manage pain, it’s not recommended as a long-term therapy.
While pain is a very physical thing, many people are turning to mental and emotional ways to manage it. A team from the Wayne State University Division of Research say patients with rheumatoid arthritis see both short and long-term benefits in pain when they use cognitive behavioural techniques including relaxation, increasing pleasant activities, changing negative thoughts and problem solving.
Arthritis Australia says a trained professional can help people learn the best relaxation and pain-coping skills which may eventually help reduce stress and muscle tension.