Joint pain is one of the most commonly reported health conditions. One in five adults of 18–44 years of age, 30% of adults between 45–64 years, and about half of the adults aged 65–74 years and over suffer from this discomfort, as per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.(1) The pain may emanate from injured ligaments, tendons or bursae surrounding the joint or ligaments, cartilage, and bones within the joint itself. It often manifests itself as the prime symptom of joint inflammation or arthritis.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that almost 15 million US adults live with severe joint pain related to arthritis.(2)
The two main forms of arthritis that can cause joint pain are osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). According to the American College of Rheumatology, OA stems from the gradual breakdown of the cushioning cartilage around commonly used joints like the wrists, hands, hips, and knees, which serve as shock absorbers for the joints.(3) As for RA, it is a progressively worsening condition that affects about 1.5 million Americans as reported by the Arthritis Foundation and is more prevalent among women than men.(4)
Causes of Joint Pain
Joint pain can be linked to many types of injuries or medical conditions. Very often, it is the direct fallout of arthritis, bursitis, and muscle pain. Regardless of the cause, joint pain can be very bothersome and may even be physically debilitating.
Some of the usual culprits for joint pain are:
- Autoimmune medical disorders like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus
- Chondromalacia Patellae
- Crystals in the joint or gout (especially found in the big toe) and CPPD arthritis (Pseudogout)
- Infections caused by a virus
- Injury, such as a fracture
- Osteomyelitis (bone infection)
- Septic arthritis (joint infection)
- Over or sudden exertion causing strains and sprains
Symptoms of Joint Pain
The Arthritis Foundation says joint pain related to arthritis is most likely to develop in one or more of the following areas: the neck and top of the back/spine, jaw, knees, hips, lower back, back of the legs, shoulders (the ball and socket joints), wrists, hands, fingers, ankles, feet, heels, and toes.(5)
The pain can range from mild to severe and may be accompanied by the following symptoms:
- Local warmth in one or more joints
- Swelling in one or more joints
- Tenderness in one or more joints
- Stiffness in one or more joints
- Loss of range of motion in the affected joint or gradual immobility
- Pain that can be aggravated by motion, pressure, or weight-bearing resistance with activity
Preventing Joint Pain
- Keep your body weight within a healthy range to lessen stress on the joints.
- Control stress, as too much stress, can weaken your body’s defenses and make it harder for your body to repair itself.
- Up your intake of foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and fish, to name a few.
- Make sure you are getting enough minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, in your diet.
- Don’t spring into intensive exercise all of sudden. Instead, loosen up your joints, muscles, and ligaments by stretching before exercising. This helps the joints to be more flexible, thereby preventing shock injuries.
- Wear protective equipment while playing sports.
- Be careful when lifting heavy objects.
- Don’t overextend yourself when exercising, and take a break from rigorous activity or cease it all together the minute you feel your joints are giving way.
- Avoid running on concrete surfaces.
- Wear comfortable, properly fitted, and supportive footwear to avoid putting undue strain on your joints.
When to see a doctor
Seeking your doctor’s consultation becomes imperative if your joint pain is accompanied by the following symptoms:
- Tenderness around the joint
- The affected area is warm to touch
More importantly, you will need immediate medical assistance if the joint pain results from an injury and is accompanied by:
- Joint deformity
- Joint immobility or locking of the joint
- Intense pain
- Sudden swelling
However, joint pain is rarely an emergency. More often than not, mildly aching joints can be successfully managed at home.
Natural Treatments for Joint Pain
Here are a few natural home remedies to help you with the pain and ease the discomfort.
1. Massage with Warm Oil
The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, reports that when done by a trained professional, massage can help control pain, increase joint motion, and improve muscle and tendon flexibility.(6)
Moreover, massage therapy helps relieve joint pain by improving circulation and soothing inflammation.
A 2007 study presented at the American Massage Therapy Association National Convention reports that therapeutic massage can work as a conjunctive treatment to alleviate joint pain and positively affect the physiological systems of RA patients by attenuating the deteriorating effects of the disease.(7)
Another 2013 study published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice shows that patients with RA in the upper limbs benefited from moderate-pressure massage therapy.(8)
- To massage the affected joint area, use warm oil like coconut, olive, mustard, castor, or garlic oil and apply gentle pressure while massaging.
- You can even consult a professional massage therapist for maximum efficiency and benefits.
2. Apply Hot and Cold Compresses
Alternating hot and cold compresses can also help ease joint pain. Heat therapy helps decrease pain, increase blood flow, and relax sore muscles and joints. Cold therapy, on the other hand, reduces inflammation and numbs the areas around the affected joint.
A 2014 study published in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine reports that using hydrotherapy along with the usual rehabilitation training can engender additional improvement in terms of pain and knee joint range of motion (ROM).(9)
Another 2017 study published in the Brazilian Journal of Physical Therapy found that arthritic patients receiving hydrotherapy had better performance for knee flexor and extensor strength, knee flexor power, and knee extensor endurance.(10)
- Take some ice cubes and a hot water bottle.
- Wrap both compresses in separate towels before using them. They should not be applied directly to the skin.
- Place the hot compress on the affected area for about three minutes.
- Remove the compress and immediately put a cold compress in its place for about one minute.
- Repeat the process for 15 to 20 minutes a few times daily until you get relief.
3. Drink Turmeric Milk (Golden Milk)
Turmeric is an excellent Ayurvedic remedy for joint pain. It contains an active ingredient called curcumin with potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
In a 2009 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, researchers compared the effectiveness of this compound to ibuprofen and found that curcumin was as effective as ibuprofen for pain relief in patients with knee osteoarthritis.(11) These findings were further corroborated by a 2014 study published in Clinical Interventions in Aging, which found the therapeutic effect of curcumin extracts comparable to that of ibuprofen in the treatment of knee osteoarthritis.(12)
- Mix one teaspoon of turmeric powder and a little honey in a glass of warm milk. Drink it daily, at least for a few days.
- Another option is to take 250 mg to 500 mg turmeric capsules three times daily until the pain begins to subside and you are satisfied with the results.
4. Add Ginger to Your Diet
Ginger is an excellent natural remedy for muscle and joint pain, thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties. Several research studies have highlighted its benefits on pain and inflammation.
One 2000 study published in Osteoarthritis and Cartilage found that ginger extract was as effective as ibuprofen in the first treatment period of a cross-over study.(13)
Similarly, the results of a 2002 animal study suggest that ginger can help relieve rheumatoid arthritis associated with joint pain in rats. Ginger was shown to reduce inflammation when taken in high doses for four weeks.(14)
A study published in the Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand in 2015 reports that the topical application of ginger extract has an inhibitory effect on knee osteoarthritis. Participants applied ginger extract three times per day for 12 weeks and experienced reduced levels of pain and other symptoms.(15)
- Drink ginger tea, or include fresh ginger root or dried ginger powder in your daily diet. To prepare ginger tea, cut up a small piece of ginger root, boil it in a cup of water for 10 minutes, and strain it. To improve the taste, you can sweeten it with honey.
- Another option is to mix equal amounts of ginger, turmeric, and fenugreek powder. Take one teaspoon of this mixture daily in the morning and evening until you are satisfied with the results.
5. Sip on Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar helps reduce joint pain by eliminating accumulated toxins from the joints and connective tissues. Due to its alkalizing effect, it is particularly beneficial for those suffering from arthritis. Also, it helps reduce inflammation in the body, which can otherwise worsen the symptoms of joint pain.
Furthermore, animal studies have highlighted the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effect of apple cider vinegar.(16) However, studies on humans are still lacking.
Plus, it is rich in minerals like magnesium, calcium, potassium, and phosphorus, all of which are considered advantageous for joint health.
- Mix 1 tablespoon of raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar and a little honey in a cup of warm water. Drink this solution two to three times a day, preferably before meals. In addition to helping you with your aching joints, this remedy has wide-ranging benefits for your overall health as well and thus can be taken on a regular basis.
- You can also massage the affected area with a mixture of one tablespoon each of apple cider vinegar and olive oil. Do this daily until your joint pain is gone.
6. Apply Cayenne Pepper & Oil Mix
Cayenne pepper contains a compound called capsaicin that has natural analgesic, or pain-relieving, properties and, hence, is very effective in the treatment of joint pain.
In a 2010 study published in the Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand, researchers found that applying a gel containing 0.0125% capsaicin helped alleviate mild to moderate pain in women suffering from knee osteoarthritis.(17)
A 2014 study published in Progress in Drug Research found that the topical application of capsaicin, four times a day, to be moderately effective in reducing pain intensity for up to 20 weeks regardless of the site of application and dose. This effect was observed in clinical-defined or radiologically defined OA patients suffering from moderate to severe pain among whom capsaicin was found to be well tolerated.(18)
In a 2018 study published in the American Journal of the Medical Sciences, researchers further reiterate the favorable effect of capsaicin in the treatment of OA due to its anti-inflammatory nature.(19)
- Slightly heat 1/2 cup of coconut oil. Mix in two tablespoons of cayenne pepper powder. Apply it on the affected area, leave it on for 20 minutes, and then rinse it off. Repeat a few times a day until you get relief from the pain.
- Alternatively, you can use a capsaicin cream topically on the affected area daily.
7. Soak in Epsom Salt Bath
Joint pain is often associated with low levels of magnesium. Epsom salt baths work to make up for this deficit as they facilitate easy absorption of magnesium through the skin.
A 2015 study published in PLOS One indicates that magnesium intake is inversely associated with radiographic knee OA and JSN and supports the potential role of magnesium in the prevention of knee OA.(20)
Moreover, magnesium helps reduce inflammation and aids in cellular detoxification.
- Mix two cups of Epsom salt in warm bath water.
- Soak in it for about 20 minutes.
- Repeat three times a week until you get relief from your joint pain.
8. Warm Olive Oil Massage
Olive oil is beneficial for reducing pain and inflammation in the joints.
A 2005 study published in Nature, reports that olive oil contains a nonsteroidal, anti-inflammatory agent that inhibits the activity of cyclooxygenase (COX) enzymes, which are responsible for inflammation in the body.(21)
Along the same lines, another 2013 study published in Current Pharmaceutical Design reports that the compound called oleocanthal found in extra-virgin olive oil prevents the production of COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes, thereby keeping the body’s inflammatory responses in check.(22)
Another 2013 study published in the Indian Journal of Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy reports that topical application of extra-virgin olive oil had a mitigating effect on the symptoms of patients diagnosed with knee osteoarthritis, which was comparable to the topical application of an NSAID.(23)
- For topical use, massage the painful joint area with warm olive oil, 2–3 times a day.
- For oral administration, consume 1 to 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil on a daily basis to fight inflammation from within.
9. Consume Fenugreek Seeds
Owing to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, fenugreek has emerged as a popular ingredient in the treatment of joint pains at home. It is particularly beneficial for those suffering from arthritis.
The findings of a 2012 study published in the journal Inflammation extend support to the anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antiarthritic activities of fenugreek.(24)
Another study published in the Indian Journal of Pharmacology in 2016 reports that the petroleum ether extract of fenugreek seeds exhibit significant anti-inflammatory and antiarthritic activities, which are due to the presence of linoleic and linoleic acids.(25)
- Consume 1 teaspoon of finely ground fenugreek seeds followed by a glass of lukewarm water every morning to reap its benefits. Continue following this remedy until you get satisfactory results.
- Alternatively, you can simply soak 1 teaspoon of fenugreek seeds in water overnight and eat them the next morning.
- You can also massage the affected joint area with fenugreek oil.
10. Pain Relief with Acupuncture
Acupuncture is another alternative treatment for joint pain, made popular by traditional Chinese medicine. It uses thin needles to stimulate certain points in the body to relieve symptoms. Acupuncture helps palliate pain by stimulating the release of natural pain-fighting endorphins.(26)
A 2014 study published in the journal Acupuncture in Medicine concludes that manual and electroacupuncture causes a significant improvement in the symptoms of osteoarthritis of the knee, either on its own or as an adjunct therapy, with no loss of benefit after one month.(27)
The effectiveness of acupuncture can be gauged by the fact it is recommended by the World Health Organization for the treatment of over 100 different conditions.(28)
How can we diagnose joint pain and what are its symptoms?
Joint pain typically presents as just that. There may or may not have been an associated injury. Patients can often localize their pain, which is helpful. I often ask them to show me with one finger where it hurts. Swelling may also be present. This often signifies a more severe injury. Patients may also have mechanical symptoms such as locking or catching. Instability, or “giving way” may be associated with a ligament tear.
Can weather or some other medical conditions like diabetes affect the severity of joint pain?
Yes, especially in conditions such as osteoarthritis (aka degenerative joint disease). Patients may describe worsening of pain when it is rainy, or there is high humidity. I have had many people tell me that they knew that a storm was coming because they were having increased pain.
What kind of exercise is beneficial to a person suffering from joint pain?
In general, low impact aerobic exercises are best. Closed chain exercises (where the foot is fixed to the ground or a peddle) are often better than open chain exercises (for example kicking out with a weight machine). In general swimming, cycling and elliptical trainers are better than running on a hard surface.
What kind of food increases the chance of joint pain?
Although food differences are not clear enough for recommendations, it is important to keep your weight within ideal parameters.
At what point should a cold or hot compress be used to treat joint pain?
I suggest using ice before working out or with swelling and heat after working out or exercising.
Which vitamins are beneficial when one is suffering from joint pain?
If patients have fragile bone, then Vitamin D is important. Otherwise, a multivitamin and/or a balanced diet is best.
About Dr. Mark Miller: He is the S. Ward Casscells Professor of Orthopedic Surgery at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia. He is a nationally recognized expert in ‘Sports Medicine’ and ‘Knee & Shoulder Surgery.’ He has published over 200 papers as well as written or edited three dozen textbooks.
- You can use topical pain relievers or take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation.
- Stay physically active and follow a fitness program focusing on moderate exercise.
- Always make sure that the equipment you are using to exercise or do sports is correct for your ability level and size.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol when suffering from any kind of pain.
- If you experience severe pain bordering on being unbearable, immobilize the joint by using a splint or a brace until you get professional help.
- Arthritis-Related Statistics. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/data_statistics/arthritis-related-stats.htm.
- Living with Severe Joint Pain. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/features/arthritis-quality-life/index.html. Published March 7, 2017.
- Osteoarthritis. Americal College of Rheumatology. http://www.rheumatology.org/I-Am-A/Patient-Caregiver/Diseases-Conditions/Osteoarthritis.
- What is Rheumatoid Arthritis? Arthritis Foundation. http://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/types/rheumatoid-arthritis/what-is-rheumatoid-arthritis.php.
- Where Does It Hurt? Arthritis Foundation. https://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/where-it-hurts/.
- Arthritis and Rheumatic Diseases. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/arthritis-and-rheumatic-diseases. Published September 25, 2018.
- Anderson RB. Researching the Effects of Massage Therapy in Treating Rheumatoid Arthritis. Massage Today. https://www.massagetoday.com/mpacms/mt/article.php?id=13716. Published December 1, 2007.
- Field T, Diego M, Delgado J, Garcia D, Funk CG. Rheumatoid arthritis in upper limbs benefits from moderate pressure massage therapy. Complementary therapies in clinical practice. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23561068. Published May 2013.
- Mazloum V, Rahnama N, Khayambashi K. Effects of Therapeutic Exercise and Hydrotherapy on Pain Severity and Knee Range of Motion in Patients with Hemophilia: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Internation Journal of Preventive Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3915478/. Published January 2014.
- Dias JM, Cisneros L, Dias R. Hydrotherapy improves pain and function in older women with knee osteoarthritis: a randomized controlled trial. Brazilian Journal of Physical Therapy. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5693429/. Published July 5, 2017.
- Kuptniratsaikul V, Thanakhumtorn S, Chinswangwatanakul P, Wattanamongkonsil L, Thamlikitkul V. Efficacy and safety of Curcuma domestica extracts in patients with knee osteoarthritis. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19678780. Published August 2009.
- Kuptniratsaikul V, Dajpratham P, Taechaarpornkul W. Efficacy and safety of Curcuma domestica extracts compared with ibuprofen in patients with knee osteoarthritis: a multicenter study. Clinical Interventions in Aging. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3964021/. Published March 20, 2014.
- Bliddal H, Rosetzsky A, Schlichting P, et al. A randomized, placebo-controlled, cross-over study of ginger extracts and ibuprofen in osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis and Cartilage. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10607493. Published January 2000.
- Thomson M, Al-Qattan KK, Al-Sawan SM, Alnaqeeb MA, Khan I, Ali M. The use of ginger (Zingiber officinale Rosc.) as a potential anti-inflammatory and antithrombotic agent. Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12468270. Published December 2002.
- Amorndoljai P, Taneepanichskul S, Niempoog S, Nimmannit U. Improving of Knee Osteoarthritic Symptom by the Local Application of Ginger Extract Nanoparticles: A Preliminary Report with Short Term Follow-Up. Journal of Medical Association of Thailand. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26591397. Published September 2015.
- Chen JH, Pan WH, Hsu CC, et al. Impact of obesity and hypertriglyceridemia on gout development with or without hyperuricemia: a prospective study. Arthritis Care & Research. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22933424. Published January 2013.
- Kosuwon W, Sirichatiwapee W, Wisanuyotin T, Jeeravipoolvarn P, Laupattarakasem W. Efficacy of symptomatic control of knee osteoarthritis with 0.0125% of capsaicin versus placebo. Journal of Medical Association of Thailand. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20973322. Published October 2010.
- Laslett LL, Jones G. Capsaicin for osteoarthritis pain. Progress in Drug Research. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24941673. Published 2014.
- Meng Z, Huang R. Topical Treatment of Degenerative Knee Osteoarthritis. The American Journal of the Medical Sciences. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0002962917303026. Published June 15, 2017.
- Zeng C, Li H, Wei J, Yang T. Association between Dietary Magnesium Intake and Radiographic Knee Osteoarthritis. PLOS ONE. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4444049/. Published 2015.
- Olive oil contains a natural anti-inflammatory agent. Monell Chemical Senses Center. https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2005-08/mcsc-ooc082905.php. Published August 31, 2005.
- Lucas L, Russell A, Keast R. Molecular mechanisms of inflammation. Anti-inflammatory benefits of virgin olive oil and the phenolic compound oleocanthal. Current Pharmaceutical Design. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21443487. Published 2011.
- Malty A-MA, Hamed S, AbuTariah H, Jebril M. The effect of Topical Application of Extra Virgin Olive Oil on Alleviating Knee Pain in Patients with Knee Osteoarthritis: A Pilot Study. Indian Journal of Physiotherapy & Occupational Therapy-An International Journal. http://www.i-scholar.in/index.php/ijpot/article/view/42568. Published 2013.
- Suresh P, Kavitha Ch, Babu SM, Reddy VP, Latha AK. Effect of ethanol extract of Trigonella foenum graecum (Fenugreek) seeds on Freund’s adjuvant-induced arthritis in albino rats. Inflammation. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22395729. Published August 2012.
- Pundarikakshudu K, Shah DH, Panchal AH. Anti-inflammatory activity of fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum Linn) seeds petroleum ether extract. Indian Journal of Pharmacology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4980935/. Published 2016.
- Watson S. Acupuncture and Arthritis. Arthritis Foundation. https://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/treatments/natural/other-therapies/mind-body-pain-relief/acupuncture-gets-respect.php.
- Tukmachi E, Jubb R, Dempsey E, Jones P. The effect of acupuncture on the symptoms of knee osteoarthritis – an open randomized controlled study. Acupuncture in Medicine. https://aim.bmj.com/content/22/1/14. Published March 1, 2004.
- Koppelman MH. Acupuncture: An Overview of Scientific Evidence. Evidence-Based Acupuncture. https://www.evidencebasedacupuncture.org/present-research/acupuncture-scientific-evidence/.