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Caring for inflamed & stiff joints

Asian male in wheelchair stretching his arm muscles
There are plenty of things you can do to care for your achy joints. Discover our top tips and best exercises for stiff and inflamed joints.

Feeling stiff after a long run? Or is it a condition you feel most days? Whatever the reason, stiff joints can make doing everyday tasks a real pain in the backside.

However, with the right type of nutrition and a few top tips, you might be able to loosen up your joints a little more. Here are our four recommendations to get you started.

Hot or cold compress

Applying temperature extremes might help stiff joints. For a chillier option, apply a cold compress or bag of ice to the joint for around 15 to 20 minutes, every day. By doing this, it can help to reduce inflammation and swelling, plus encourage joint movement.

It’ll also help to minimise pain by dulling your pain receptors. Just remember to put a damp cloth around any frozen bags to avoid your flesh from burning – ouch! For the warmer option, opt for a heating pad, hot water bottle or take a long bath to increase blood circulation and relax your muscles.

Epsom salts

If you do decide to have a bath, use Epsom Salts. They have been traditionally used to ease sore muscles and joints as the warm bath may help to relax the muscles, whilst the magnesium within the salts can be absorbed transdermally (through the skin) and may aid with muscle function.

Handpicked content: Guide to using Epsom salts

Take supplements

Fuelling your body with the right minerals and vitamins is another way to help stiff joints. For instance, the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil supplements have been reported to have reduced morning stiffness and pain.2 Flaxseed also contains omega-3 fatty acids, as well as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which have been found to reduce inflammation and reduce the painful symptoms of joint stiffness.3

Some evidence even found that glucosamine sulfate plays a role in creating cartilage and relieving joint pain.4 The same report found it could be useful for those suffering from osteoarthritis. Curcumin, commonly found in the spice turmeric, is also believed to have positive anti-inflammatory effects on the joints too.5

Limber up

This probably isn’t what you want to hear if your joints are stiff after doing exercise, but it can help. Physical therapy and stretching can help increase joint mobility and reduce stiffness. Foam rolling stiff areas is particularly useful. Exercise can keep you in shape, subsequently taking any excessive weight off your stiff joints.

You can ease joint discomfort and stay supple by following the right fitness plan. If you have joint problems, such as arthritis, you might be scared that exercise will make things worse.

But actually, the opposite is true: exercise helps keep joints flexible and stable, while inactivity can do more harm than good.

The best exercises to protect your joints

Exercising strengthens the muscles that support, protect and move your joints. It improves the range of movement and can help you manage joint pain better.

In a 2017 study of 10,000 people with osteoarthritis, researchers from the Southern University of Denmark found that regular exercise helped pain symptoms and improved quality of life.6 Another bonus is that exercise helps you maintain a healthy weight – being overweight puts additional pressure on joints.7


Handpicked content: How to get the perfect combination of diet and exercise

Exercises to avoid

If you are experiencing joint pain, steer clear of anything high-impact in which both feet hit the ground with force – like running, aerobics, vigorous dancing, tennis and squash13 – as this can stress the joints.

It can be tempting to avoid exercise when you’re experiencing joint pain for fear of making any swelling or stiffness worse.

However, reducing your activity and movement is not the answer, and in fact, not being active enough can actually bring on more pain.

There are various reasons why you might have pain in your joints. Common issues such as osteoarthritis- which is caused by the wearing down of cartilage- are often to blame.

However, the cartilage itself can’t feel pain as it has no nerve tissues. Therefore, the pain you feel is generally a result of the inflammation of the connective tissues, ligaments or tendons surrounding the joint.

You may be nervous to increase your levels of exercise if you’re experiencing joint inflammation. However, the most important thing to remember is that your body needs to stay active, and exercise offers a range of benefits that could help ease your symptoms.

You also asked...

What exercises should I be doing?

It’s best to participate in low or moderate-impact exercises so as not to put too much pressure on the joints.

This means that high-impact exercises such as sprinting is to be avoided during episodes of joint pain as they could put undue stress on the tissues surrounding your joints.

Low-impact exercise refers to an activity where the body is fully supported, such as yoga, cross-training and swimming.

This category also includes moderate-impact exercises where one foot generally stays in contact with the ground or a machine, such as brisk walking, or stepping.

High-intensity exercise are more vigorous and tend to involve both feet leaving the ground at the same time, such as skipping, squash, football and sprinting, which can be too much for inflamed joints.

Along with choosing low-to moderate impact exercises, it’s a good idea to incorporate three sub-types of exercise into your routine- cardiovascular exercise, strength training and movements which enhance flexibility such as yoga.

 

What is cardiovascular exercise?

Cardio refers to any aerobic exercise which gets your heart pumping and your body using oxygen.

Examples of low and medium-impact cardio exercises that are great to do when you have joint pain include cycling, swimming, cross-training and fast walking.

Cardio is great for lowering your body fat which reduces the pressure on your joints and keeps inflammation down.

 

Can I strength train if I have sore joints?

Weight-bearing movements such as squats, deadlifts and bench presses help keep the muscles arounds the joints strong and could help to decrease your pain levels.

Conditions that cause joint inflammation- such as rheumatoid arthritis- affect muscle mass and strength.

Over time this could lead to disability, so it’s important to target muscles that could have become weak due to under-use.

Studies have shown significant improvement in the quality of life of patients with rheumatoid arthritis when following resistance-based exercise therapy programs.

It’s a good idea to vary your routine, and don’t exercise the same muscles every time you work out.

 

Sources

1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMHT0001100/
6. Skou ST and Roos EM. Good Life with osteoarthritis in Denmark (GLA:D™): evidence-based education and supervised neuromuscular exercise delivered by certified physiotherapists nationwide. Available from:
7. Arthritis Foundation. How fat affects arthritis. Available from: https://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/comorbidities/obesity-arthritis/fat-and-arthritis.php
8. Swim England. Swimming is one of the best exercises for arthritis. Available from: http://www.swimming.org/justswim/exercises-for-arthritis/
9. Arthritis Foundation. Biking is great for your joints. Available from: http://blog.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/biking-exercise-for-arthritis/
10. Bruno M, et al. Effectiveness of two Arthritis Foundation programs: Walk With Ease, and YOU Can Break the Pain Cycle. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2695175/
11. Moonaz SH, et al. Yoga in sedentary adults with arthritis. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25834206
12. Wang C, et al. Comparative Effectiveness of Tai Chi Versus Physical Therapy for Knee Osteoarthritis: A Randomized Trial. Available from: http://annals.org/aim/article-abstract/2522435/comparative-effectiveness-tai-chi-versus-physical-therapy-knee-osteoarthritis-randomized
13. Hunter DJ and Eckstein F. Exercise and osteoarthritis. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2667877/
 

Disclaimer

The advice in this article is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP or healthcare professional before trying any supplements, treatments or remedies. Food supplements must not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.
 

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