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Dealing with joint pain

Dealing with joint pain

Do you suffer from sore joints and or aching muscles? Does this occur even when you haven’t done anything physical or during the night when sleeping? There could be many reasons for this, however your diet can be a huge influence in your suffering and in this post I’ll explain what foods to avoid and what foods may help combat these issues.

What are the possible causes of these aches and pains?

Many issues with your joints are related to arthritis creating stiffness and joint pain. It affects those of all ages, not just the older population. Arthritis is often a cause of our modern lifestyle and often down to poor diets and nutrition. Many sufferers can be overweight, have bad posture, spend too much time sitting around inactive, curled up on a sofa, sitting at a computer all day or over using their joints in repetitive activities such as using a mouse or playing video games. Those that are more active can also still suffer from joint issues, by again over using their joints repetitively doing a specific sport or activity, or dare I say it, years of lifting heavy weights wearing down the joints. That said, sensible regular cardio and resistance exercises can actually help improve the situation. While some types of arthritis can be the result of an injury, disease, infection, genetic disposition or simply through the aging process.

The most common form of arthritis is Osteoarthritis, which is a degenerative joint issue and mostly considered a non-inflammatory joint issue. Its symptoms can include joint pain from the breakdown of joint cartilage, stiffness and swelling. Most conditions happen due to the occurrence of an injury or damage over time of a joint. Treatment will usually include exercise, weight lose or even the wearing of joint braces if necessary. Unfortunately there is no cure for joint damage once it occurs without surgery. However you can strengthen a joint and surrounding muscles with regular exercise and reduce swelling and pain by following a healthy diet plan.

The second most common is Rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic joint disease that can affect one or more of your joints. Unfortunately it is caused by our own immune system attacking the joints, creating swelling, stiffness and joint pain. This type of arthritis creates inflammation and this is where the food you eat can either help or hinder this condition. By reducing inflammation and eliminating bad foods from your diet, the effects of Rheumatoid arthritis can be considerably improved.

There are many other types of arthritis and most of these can be improved by following much of the advice below.

Do you have arthritis?

An occasional popping or clicking sound from a joint is quite normal. A clicking/popping sound is normally associated with the natural formation of air (gas) in the synovial fluid of the joint that gets released and pops and not the rubbing of the joint itself. Often the release of this air can bring relief to a joint reducing tightness on a tendon and surrounding muscles. Usually once the air has been displaced you will not get the popping sound again until the air returns, hence why you can only click a knuckle once. Other joints like your neck area may have several areas of the gas formation and create multiple smaller popping sounds.

A snapping sound could mean a connective tissue is out of alignment and can be down to the tissues and tendons gliding over the joint itself (crepitus) and again normally shouldn’t be of too much concern. This often happens to your much used wrist or ankle joints. However, a regular occurrence especially with aches, pain and possibly swelling isn’t and could be a possible sign you are suffering from arthritis or some other issue such as tendonitis (inflammation and swelling of the tendons), that may need to be checked out by your doctor.

Regardless of whether you have clicking or even painful joints, following the advice below will only help improve the situation.

What can you do to reduce or even stop these aches and pains?

The food you eat can and often does have an impact on how you feel. Many types of food can increase or even cause various issues and inflammation in the body resulting in aches and pains.

A poor diet doesn’t just add bad substances to the body, they actually also use up needed vitamins and minerals and nutrients as the body tries to fight off oxidation and harmful stress created by them. Therefore eating the right types of food can have a significant impact on the condition.

As some foods can help and others make these conditions worse, some foods may need to be eliminated and others eaten in moderation. Unfortunately finding which foods are having an effect is often down to trial an error, as certain foods will affect individual people differently. However, by following a more healthy proactive diet as listed below you may be able to reduce the effects of your aches and pains.

As a side note here, if you have pain and swelling from an injury you may need to seek medical advice. However you can also follow a rest, ice and support procedure.

Foods that may increase inflammation include:

The following food and drink are known to create inflammation in the body and/or other related issues that can adversely affect your joints and muscles.

  • Sugar also known as fructose or sucrose – Creates inflammation producing substances. Avoid foods such as cakes, biscuits, desserts, chocolate, sweets, ice cream, fizzy drinks, fruit juice and many sauces. The problem for most is that your brain craves sugar, however with strong will power you can eventually wean yourself away from having a sweet tooth. If you really do need to have something sweet to add to a food, try natural sources of sugar such as honey, maple syrup, molasses and coconut sugar. Simply try to avoid processed sugars as much as you can, but also be aware that artificial sweeteners may not necessarily be good for your health either.
  • Refined carbohydrates – Easily converted by the body into more sugar. Avoid white bread, white rice, white potatoes, cakes and other baked foods.
  • Saturated fat – Weakens the cartilage in your joints. Saturated fat is mostly found in red meat, but also other animal fat, high/full fat dairy, including most types of cheese, pizza, cakes and other baked dessert foods.
  • Processed, fried and fast foods – These contain high amounts of trans fats which can trigger inflammation. So avoid ready-made meals, sugar laden breakfast cereals, takeaways, fast foods and fried foods.
  • Gluten – Avoiding gluten can help reduce pain in the joints. Found in some wheat, barley, rye. If you eat a lot of cereal or bread, try to find very low or gluten free products.
  • Salt – Too much salt can increase water retention that can also lead to an increase in the swelling of your joints. It can also rob your body of much needed calcium, not to mention that excess salt is bad for your blood pressure.
  • Oils – These oils are high in various bad fats and bad proteins and lipids that cause health issues. The cooking of these oils creates oxidation which damages the body (the reverse of anti-oxidants, which are good). Reduce the amount of vegetable oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, peanut oil, grapeseed, mayonnaise and other dressings. If oil is needed for cooking, stick to extra virgin olive oil or even coconut oil.
  • Alcohol – Too much can have a negative effect on gut health and lead to inflammation. Moderation is key with alcohol if you feel the need!
  • Caffeine – This can increase inflammation as it alters your pH balance and chemical processes within the body. Reduce coffee, tea and certain soft drinks and try replacing them with herbal teas and infusions or even just water instead. Watch for decaffeinated alternatives as many will still have caffeine in them.

Foods that may help reduce inflammation include:

The following food and drink choices are known to help either reduce inflammation in the body and/or help the body cope with stress against harmful processes that can lead to related health issues.

  • Eat oily fish 2-3 times a week, such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, trout, sardines, anchovies, herring and various other oily fish. If you prefer or are not a fish eater, try supplementing with cod liver oil or other fish oil supplements. These contain Omega 3 fatty acids in the form of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which must be gotten from your diet directly or from converting alpha-linolenic acid (see below) as your body cannot produce them. Both EPA and DHA are excellent for reducing inflammation and other joint issues in the body. Avoid canned fish that are in non fish oil as these will contain high amounts of omega 6. Omega 6, while needed by the body, if consumed too much and not in balance with Omega 3 can lead to inflammation producing chemicals. Also don’t over consume or over supplement with Omega 3 as well, as various studies have shown some potential negative health effects in some individuals – aim for around 1-2 grams per day.
  • Nuts and seeds – They provide omega 3 in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which can be converted to DHA and EPA. However only a small percentage will be converted which does make them a little less efficient than fish oil. One issue to watch out for is that many nuts and seeds have high amounts of Omega 6, which can block the conversion of plant based Omega 3. Chia seeds and flaxseeds have more Omega 3 than Omega 6. Walnuts, almonds and pine nuts are also good nut choices.
  • Fruits and vegetables – Aim for 5-10 servings per day. They are full of antioxidants which help reduce cell damaging free radicals. Cherries and berries, especially blueberries are best, but most dark (red/purple) coloured fruits are good. Also add one or two citrus fruits as they are high in vitamin C which again helps reduce inflammation, although some like grapefruit can interfere with arthritis medication, so be aware of that. Vegetables high in vitamin K reduce inflammation, so try eating more cabbage, broccoli, lettuce, spinach, kale, cauliflower and brussel sprouts. Most dark leafy vegetables are generally best. Also good, are beetroot, sweet potatoes, turnips, yams, avocados and olives.  
  • Whole grains – try brown rice, whole wheat bread, quinoa, buckwheat and oats. They are high in fibre which can help lower blood CRP (c-reactive protein) which helps lower inflammation. Make sure you try to get reduced or gluten free sources.
  • Dairy (controversial) – the issue here is that milk products contain good amounts of calcium and vitamin D which are essential for bone health. However some people feel worse having dairy and are lactose intolerant. Also the protein in milk is mainly casein and casein has been found to be a problem in various ways for many people and can create inflammation in the body. If you want to reap the benefits, best to stick to low fat and low sugar dairy sources. As a side note, bone health is important and if you reduce your dairy content then finding good sources of calcium is important. If you don’t supply your body with enough calcium through your diet it will take it from your bones, as it also requires calcium for other functions and tasks. Therefore alternatively you can get calcium from almonds, kale (and other leafy green vegetables), tofu, canned salmon with bones, sardines, Chia seeds, figs and some fruits and nuts. As a second side note, ensure you get enough magnesium as well to help the absorption of calcium as without it the calcium could actually make matters worse for your joints as they can become crystallized around your joints. Lucky enough many of the foods mentioned in this section do indeed contain good quantities of magnesium, such as nuts, seeds, beans, avocado, broccoli, spinach, brown rice, whole wheat bread, salmon and oats for example. Conversely many of the same foods contain oxalate, which can bind to calcium and block a lot of it being absorbed, as well as create kidney stones in some people.
  • Beans – Red kidney beans, black beans, chickpeas and pinto beans contain anti-inflammatory compounds and antioxidants. Soybeans are also good as they contain a good amount of protein and unsaturated fats. Lentils are also a good source of antioxidants.
  • Dark chocolate – The more cocoa content the better, as it is a great antioxidant, but watch out for those with high sugar and fat content.
  • Spices – Such as turmeric, ginger, garlic and cinnamon. These all help and are anti-inflammatory, as well as being great for adding flavor to foods instead of adding salt and sauces high in sugar and unhealthy fats.
  • Green tea/other herbal teas – Great source of antioxidants.
  • Vitamin C – Helps make collagen for your cartilages, tendons and ligaments.
  • Vitamin D – Low levels of this vitamin can often create or increase inflammation and joint pain.
  • There are also a number of supplements that may or may not help, such as Glucosamine and chondroitin (both naturally produced by the body). These supplements are designed to provide the compounds needed for the building and repair of the joint cartilage.
  • Water – This ensures you have plenty of fluid available for lubricating your joints, as cartilage is made up of over 60% water.

Exercise for your joints

If you have sore joints, the last thing on your mind may be exercise. However research has proven that being more active can actually help with many joint issues.

Essentially you need to move more. Being more active and moving your limbs helps keep your joints lubricated, while sitting for long periods of time doesn’t and can also tighten your muscles, reducing mobility. Exercise will help strengthen the ligaments and supportive tissues and can even help reduce joint pain by producing endorphins.

Other benefits of exercise can have an indirect affect on joint issues, such as weight loss. The less weight on your joints the less pressure on them, reducing stress and pain. Getting generally fitter and stronger helps the body recover and is good for the mind as well.

If I have convinced you that exercise can help you with your joints, you will need to start slow and use low impact exercises. Try to get a mix of cardio, resistance, balance and flexibility type exercises.

Resistance exercises can help strengthen the muscles around the joints which will in turn help with mobility and stabilizing the joints. You also can get the added bonus of maintaining or even increasing bone density. Use resistance bands, bodyweight exercises, exercise machines, various types of weights or even household objects, but avoid heavy lifting or going too intense.

If resistance training is not your thing or too much for you or if you are suffering from painful joints, seek medical advice first. Ideally if this is the case, you should start with gentle movements. Try walking in water this is great for those with bad joint pain as it allows you to reduce weight on the joint.

For some cardio or low impact activities you can also try a simple walk, dancing, pilates, tai chi, cycling, exercise machines, gardening, housework or swimming for example.

Avoid running if you have knee issues, as the high impact can make joint issues worse. Cycling is generally easier on the joints but watch for over doing it especially if you live in a hilly area, alternatively use an ebike (electric bike) to help out.

Keep workout time down to 30 mins max at a time. If necessary try spreading your workouts into 10 minute increments at a time. Exercise 3 days per week to start, with a day’s rest between workout days, but you can still do smaller easier mobility activities if you like on those rest days such as stretching or slow gentle walks for example. If you can split your exercises into daily activities over the course of a day, this will get you up and around more often and away from the TV or computer for example. Keep active, but don’t forget to rest as well.

Don’t forget to warm-up properly and cool down with some gentle stretching and mobility exercises. Have a good stretch routine that you can perform 2-3 times a week or after a workout. This helps reduce tightness and will improves flexibility and range of motion. Be slow and gentle with the stretching. Do just a few minutes each time. It’s also worth noting here, that while increasing flexibility is important, don’t over do it, as over stretching your muscles and connective tissues over time can actually destabilize a joint instead.

If you are not used to exercise there may be a period after your first few weeks of discomfort in your muscles. This is normal, as muscles you are now using will not be used to being used and tend to ache until your body learns to adapt to the new stimulus, but you should not be feeling pain. If you feel pain then stop and if necessary seek medical advice.

Finally, consider wearing supports or braces if necessary. However be aware that this will take away some of the benefits of some types of exercise by reducing mobility or over supporting a muscle when doing some resistance training, so use them when only necessary and don’t rely on them.


When it comes to joint pain the old adage that prevention is better than a cure is certainly true. Following a healthy diet and exercise routine will help fight against obesity, heart disease and diabetes and also play a major part in joint health by strengthening and building stronger bones, muscles and joints now and in the future.

It’s important to also say here that although much of the so called good food, are just that, some people are prone to food allergies and as such will need to choose and monitor their reaction to all food consumed. It is often easier to do this my elimination. i.e. set a diet up and remove a food that you suspect may be causing you an issue. If there is no change, reintroduce it and see if the side effects or symptoms return or get worse. Unfortunately it often comes down to a process of elimination, one food substance at a time.

As a side note, drugs used for pain and inflammation needs to be taken with care. Many NSAIDs such as ibuprofen can in fact block the repair process of a joint/bone for some people. If you find taking them gives you no relief or worse, side effects, consult your doctor or pharmacy.

Finally, maintain good posture and core strength to help reduce the load and pressure on your joints.