Joint pain treatment: how to ease achy joints

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Suffering from sore knees, aching elbows or stiff hands? Here’s how to look after your joints as you age.

By Lucy Fry

Since our joints form the connections between our bones which hold our bodiestogether, it’s fair to say that they are important and deserve to be looked after. But joint pain is extremely common and most people will experience aches and pains at some point in their life. If you sustain an injury or suffer from arthritis, your joints can become increasingly painful and achy – especially with age.

So how can we ease those achy joints without continually reaching for the painkillers? We speak to chiropractor Andrew Martin and Dr Sarah Brewer to get the lowdown on joint pain management:

What is joint pain?

Damage to the joints from illness or injury can interfere with movement and cause a lot of pain. If your joints are suffering, Dr Martin outlines the following warning signs to look out for:

  • You may notice a creakiness in one or more joints.
  • You may feel the need to stretch your back every day.
  • A joint may become less flexible than before or no longer be easily straightened fully.
  • You may also notice that your joints are swelling or changing shape.
  • Your hands and feet easily get cold and stiff.
  • A joint may also start to ache, especially after exercise, and it may be uncomfortable to kneel.

Why do we get joint pain?

The most common cause of joint pain is arthritis due to overuse, impaired biomechanics or injury. ‘Osteoarthritis is the development of worsening joint pain that is commonly associated with age, which may present in just one joint or many,’ says Martin.

The most common cause of joint pain is arthritis due to overuse, impaired biomechanics or injury.

‘Rheumatoid arthritis however is an autoimmune disease where your body’s immune system attacks itself, affecting the lining of joints that causes the joints to become painful, swollen, hot and stiff.’

How to look after your joints 

If you’re in chronic pain, speak to your GP to rule out anything more serious. But for general aches and pains, follow these tips to make sure you’re looking after your joints as you age:

Stay in a healthy weight range

‘For every extra pound you carry the overall force across your knees when walking or standing increases by two to three pounds,’ says Dr Brewer.

One Canadian study reported that obese populations are three times more likely to require knee joint replacement surgery than those in a healthy weight range. We can even quantify this risk, says Dr Brewer. ‘Overweight people who manage to lose as little as 5kg in weight have been shown to halve their risk of developing of knee osteoarthritis over the next 10 years.’

Yoga and Pilates are great ways to increase joint range, function and mobility.

✔️Try this: Move your limbs around in all different directions. ‘When it comes to joints, motion is lotion,’ says Martin.

‘We need to move a joint around its full range of motion to keep it healthy. Yoga and Pilatesare great ways to increase joint range, function and mobility and finding somewhere to hang from for a few seconds every so often throughout the day can help to keep your shoulders stronger and preserve their full range of motion.’

Exercise regularly – but don’t overdo it

One common misconception is that the more sport or training we do when we’re younger can lead to increased wear and tear on our joints when we’re older, but that’s not always the reality. ‘The joints, and the cartilage within, actually respond well to load, stimulating more protective cartilage, not less,’ says Martin. ‘Ongoing strength training as we age actually helps to protect our joints and keep them strong.’

Strength training as we age actually helps to protect our joints and keep them strong.

✔️Try this: Before you start loading up the weights though, beware of overdoing things. ‘Excessive load can also cause the joints to have to lay down extra bone, known as osteophytes, within the joint,’ says Martin.

‘These are the bits that can contribute to closing down the joint space and significantly limit their range of motion, possibly resulting in the need for joint replacement surgery.’

Don’t overstretch yourself

Pilates instructor Jeannie Di Bon warns naturally bendy people against doing too much yoga: ‘Think of a joint like a door hinge – if you open the door too much past its range you could damage the hinge,’ she says.

‘Similarly, if you’re over-stretching the muscles around the joint it impacts where the joint is meeting the two bones,’ she adds. ‘Some people suffer from hyper-mobility, or lax/unstable joints, which means they can easily stretch too far without realising it and become injured – these people should consider going easy on the down dogs and watch their elbows don’t kick inwards.’

Keep moving

A sedentary lifestyle can impact your joints, so it’s important to keep moving throughout the day. ‘Your weight bearing joints, such as the knees, survive these pressures due to the resilience of cartilage which can spring back into shape, and the cushioning effect of joint synovial fluid,’ says Dr Brewer.

Changing position every half an hour can help to mobilise joints.

Sitting still for hours can deactivate our all-important buttock muscles that support our backs. Changing position, for example from sitting to standing every half an hour can help to mobilise joints. ‘One simple habit for desk workers to develop is to squat on your chair, with your feet actually on the chair if it’s safe to do so, or even better on the floor, for a few minutes every hour,’ Martin suggests.

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