Being active means at least 30 percent of us have felt a recent twinge of joint pain, research shows. Read on for six easy, proven strategies that spell instant relief and prevent future aches.
Massage away stiffness
One of the most effective ways to soothe joints is also the simplest, promises rheumatologist Michael Lockshin, MD. “Very often, gently massaging joints will alleviate aches,” he says. “And applying moderate heat helps get rid of extra fluid that builds up and triggers inflammation.” Get the double-duty benefit by warming a bottle of sesame oil in a pot of water for a few minutes, then rubbing the oil into stiff joints in circular motions. In one study, massaging joints with warm sesame oil slashed pain by almost 60 percent in one week. Credit goes to sesamol, the active ingredient in the oil, proven to soothe soreness.
Fill up on good fat
“An anti-inflammatory diet rich in salmon, tuna, and leafy greens, all brimming with healthy omega-3 fatty acids, helps fight joint aches,” notes physiatrist Grant Cooper, MD. In fact, research shows eating three servings of fish the size of a checkbook each week eases joint pain and reduces stiffness significantly in just 10 days. Not only are omega-3s shown to lubricate joints, they also dial down pain-triggering hormones.
Sprinkle on spice
“Multiple studies show that supplementing with curcumin, found in turmeric, can cut joint pain and swelling,” notes Dr. Cooper. To get the anti-inflammatory benefits, sprinkle 1 tsp. of turmeric daily onto salads, soups or any dish you want to add a pain-preempting kick — researchers say it’ll reduce chronic aches by more than 70 percent! Or take 500 mg. of curcumin two to three times daily. Note: Check with your doctor before supplementing.
Soak up sun
“If a bone is weak, it affects the way a joint works, which can lead to pain,” reveals Dr. Lockshin. That’s why soaking up bone-fortifying vitamin D is key to warding off aches. Research shows sitting in the sun for 30 minutes each day ramps up the body’s production of D, bolstering bone health and reducing joint pain.
Make strong moves
“Strengthening muscles around joints cushions them like a cradle,” says joint expert Edward Phillips, MD. His top move to prevent knee pain: “Gently squatting in and out of a chair five times twice daily is the easiest prescription in the world to strengthen leg muscles around knee joints.” And for your upper body? “Raise your hands above your head like you’re being arrested, slowly bringing your elbows down to your sides,” says Dr. Lockshin. “Repeating this move helps protect your shoulders, which tend to be different from other joints in that they lock up after a flare-up if we don’t move them as soon as it feels tolerable.” He surmises this may be because calcium deposits often build up in our shoulders, causing greater inflammation.
“Low-impact exercise like swimming and tai chi soothe hand, hip, and knee joints by moving blood to damaged tissue,” notes Dr. Phillips. In fact, practicing tai chi three times a week is shown to tamp down joint pain by 33 percent. Says Dr. Phillips, “What I love about tai chi and yoga classes is that in addition to helping you increase range of motion, they also provide a therapeutic social aspect, which alleviates stress and enhances your well-being.”
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.