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Disease Prevention

Can Your Diet Really Help Improve Joint Pain?

Sore, achy and swollen joints might not seem like they’re related to your diet – but food can play a surprising role in joint pain. And soothing your pain could potentially be as simple as changing what you eat.

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Swelling, warmth, creaks and aches, searing pain – all of these unpleasant symptoms can appear in your joints, regardless of your age. And these joint pain symptoms are incredibly common. 

Joint pain is often linked to arthritis, which includes joint pain and a number of different joint diseases. Almost half of all Americans are living with some form of doctor-diagnosed arthritis or arthritis symptoms. While medication and other medical interventions or therapies are often the first approach to soothe your pain and target its causes, what you eat can also shape your symptoms.

It might not sound like there’s a direct link between diet and joint pain, but this common kind of pain can be connected to how and what you’re eating. Learn about the role your diet can play when you’re experiencing joint pain – and how you might be able to find some relief through food.

Does the food you eat have an effect on your joints?

Search online, and you’ll find plenty of diets that promise to help joint pain and arthritis. While many of these claims are iffy, there is evidence – evidence that’s backed by scientific research – that sticking to certain dietary principles may have a positive effect on your sore, achy joints.

Harvard University’s Health Publishing division points to a few key eating habits that can help limit joint pain and arthritis:

  • Eating to lose or control your weight
  • Increasing omega-3 fatty acids
  • Avoiding unhealthy fats such as trans fats
  • Choosing foods rich in vitamin D
  • Increasing your fruit and veggie intake

Carrying extra weight can put you at risk for osteoarthritis and increase the wear and tear on your joints. Losing even just a few pounds can reduce the amount of stress on your joints and potentially lessen your discomfort. A research study demonstrated that losing just 1 pound will reduce the load on your knees by 4 pounds. Even keeping your weight under control can help, limiting your odds of developing conditions like osteoarthritis.

And adjusting your diet to include omega-3 fatty acids, more vitamin D and increased fruits and vegetables may also help soothe current joint pain and stave off future problems. Omega-3s can help reduce inflammation, which contributes to types of arthritis like rheumatoid arthritis. Similarly, vitamin D may be able to slow osteoarthritis progression and lower your risk for both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, a detail that may keep your joint pain manageable.

Of course, changing your diet to lose weight, combat inflammation and get all the nutrients you need isn’t just potentially beneficial for joint pain or arthritis. It’s a positive move for your health overall. Adjusting your diet can have benefits well beyond the possible pain relief alone. 

Targeting joint pain means targeting inflammation

In general, one of the best dietary approaches to dealing with joint pain is to follow an anti-inflammatory diet. It’s common for joint pain to be tied directly to inflammation. Osteoarthritis, for example, creates inflammation that makes your joints hurt. Other ailments, like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and psoriatic arthritis, are inflammatory diseases that cause widespread inflammation that particularly affects your joints.

So, regardless of which kind of inflammation is causing your joint pain, altering your diet to manage or reduce inflammation is key. This can help reduce your pain, stiffness and swelling. It may even help other symptoms or inflammatory flares (in combination with medication too).

You can incorporate anti-inflammatory foods and make them the centerpiece of your diet. Or, you can try a diet that’s known to soothe inflammation. The Mediterranean diet, for example, was found to decrease the risk of osteoarthritis symptoms and pain in one study. In another study, a Mediterranean-like, anti-inflammatory diet also had a positive effect on disease activity in individuals with RA. 

Keep in mind that not all joint pain is arthritis

There’s one more important thing to note about using your diet to soothe joint pain. While we’ve discussed how anti-inflammatory foods and diets can help, they can only do so much. And they may not have any impact if your joint pain is the result of an injury or a non-inflammatory ailment.

Dietary changes have been shown to help with inflammation-related joint pain and underlying inflammatory conditions. However, if one of your joints is aching due to something like a ligament tear or cartilage issue, your diet may not have the same potential impact. Some conditions, like tendonitis or bursitis, can bring on inflammation. But you’ll want to make sure you and your doctor target the cause of your pain with more than dietary changes if you’re facing an injury.

If you want to learn more about potentially soothing your joint pain with anti-inflammatory foods, supplements and more, keep reading: