Types of Pain
Knowing the ways pain can show up in your joints can get you on the right path.
“Joint pain is dependent on many things such as family history, physical activity levels, environmental conditions, history of injuries or trauma,” says Brett Smith, DO, a rheumatologist in Alcoa, TN. “Pain is more common as we age, but not necessarily a fact of life.”
There are many types of arthritis. Two you may hear the most about are:
- Osteoarthritis (OA), is the most common type of arthritis. It impacts 27 million Americans. Osteoarthritis is often called wear and tear arthritis because it comes from using your joints over time or after an injury. In OA, the cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones in your joints wears away until bone rubs on bone.
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), is an inflammatory condition where your immune system attacks the tissue that lines your joints. Symptoms can also include tender, warm, stiff, and swollen joints along with fever, fatigue, and loss of appetite.
You’ve heard it before. Smoking causes a lot of damage. It can harm every organ in your body. The damage can also include your joints. You’re more likely to get RA and to have worse joint damage if you do. Some studies suggest smoking makes the pain from knee OA worse and that smokers are twice as likely to have cartilage as nonsmokers. If you smoke, you may feel pain more intensely. It may also be harder to find relief from pain medication used to treat arthritis. Talk to your doctor if you need help quitting. They may suggest joining a support group, using nicotine patches, or other remedies.
One of the biggest contributors to joint pain is being overweight. One study found that every extra pound puts 4 pounds of pressure on your knees. Or to look at it a different way, losing 10 pounds of weight can take 40 pounds of pressure off.
Get (and Keep) Moving
Moving your body regularly can help prevent pain as you age and further prevent damage. Trade activities that take a toll on your joints like running for low-impact exercises like swimming, walking, and biking. Weight training builds the muscles that help support your joints. Exercises that strengthen your core (abs and back muscles) will help prevent falls and other injuries that might damage your joints.
Try to move daily. Find a walking buddy. If you sit a lot for work, try to take calls while standing or consider investing in a standing desk.
Ditch the Sugary Drinks
They can boost inflammation, lead to weight gain, and make you more likely to get RA. On the other hand, drinking enough water can help decrease pain. Your joints are 70%-80% water, so getting enough will keep the synovial fluid in your joints well lubricated.
Eat the Good Stuff
Eating healthy food is another way to prevent joint pain as you age. Some foods can hurt your joints. They can trigger inflammation, pain, and swelling.
A lack of quality sleep can make your joint pain worse. Restless nights can cause depression, worsening pain, and even make it more likely that your arthritis will lead to disability. When you don’t get enough shut-eye, it’s hard for your body to fight back against pain.
Making sleep a priority starts with good sleep hygiene. That means going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. Turn off electrical devices (cell phones, laptops, TVs) at least an hour before you hit the hay. Do things to calm you down, like taking a warm bath, sipping a cup of tea, or meditating.
Joint Pain Treatments
If you’re already having joint pain, talk to your doctor. Treatments that can help include:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Massage therapy
- Physical therapy
- Disease-modifying medications (for RA)
In addition to traditional treatments, alternative therapies to joint pain may include supplements like:
- Glucosamine and chondroitin. Some studies suggest these natural substances found in healthy cartilage (the connective tissue that cushions your joint) can protect cartilage and may help stop inflammation. Supplement products are made from the cartilage of animals like cows, pigs, or shellfish. They can also be made in a lab.
- Fish oil. Omega-3 fatty acids help your body make chemicals that manage inflammation and can help ease stiffness. You can get them as supplements and from foods like salmon, tuna, and nuts.
- Acupuncture. This ancient Chinese healing practice is helpful for OA knee pain. A practitioner inserts small, thin needles into certain points in your body to increase energy flow to the area.
- Viscosupplementation. This OA treatment involves a doctor injecting hyaluronic acid (a naturally occurring substance in joint fluid) into your joint (most commonly the knee). This fluid lubricates bones so they can move easily together.
- Platelet-rich plasma (PRP). Doctors use your blood platelets in strong doses to inject them back into your joint. These platelets contain hundreds of proteins known as growth factors, which can help speed up the healing response in your body. But there isn’t enough evidence yet to say how well it works.
Joint Pain Isn’t Inevitable With Age