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Rheumatism and joint pain

There are several reasons why you may be experiencing joint pain, such as an injury, changes in activity levels, or conditions such as osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. What these factors have in common is that they are characterised by inflammation of the connective tissues, ligaments or tendons surrounding the joint, which is what causes your joint pain.

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Cartilage damage

A frequent cause of joint pain is the damage to cartilage. This can either happen suddenly, such as in an accident, or it can become worn down gradually as we age. Cartilage is a tough connective tissue that sits within many joints in your body. Its purpose is to provide a protective layer within your joint to absorb shock and stop the bones from grinding together as the joint moves. When our cartilage gets damaged, the protective layer is lost. This causes the bones to rub together, causing friction which leads to inflammation and pain within the joint.1 If this happens continuously over time, it can develop into clinical conditions such as osteoarthritis.

Autoimmune disorders

Inflammation is your body’s way of helping to protect you from external threats such as viruses, bacteria and infections. It happens as a result of your immune system’s response to ‘antigens’, which refers to anything your body sees as a threat such as germs or foreign objects. When your immune system has recognised an antigen, it triggers white blood cells to cluster around it, causing swelling, pain, redness and sometimes heat. In the case of an injury or infection, this is very useful as this response helps minimise damage to your body’s tissues.

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However, sometimes the immune system can mistake its own cells for antigens and trigger an inflammatory response to fight them, causing unnecessary swelling around otherwise healthy tissues.2 This is what happens with autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, where the body attacks the tissues around the joint. People with rheumatoid arthritis tend to experience ‘flare ups’, which are periods of time when the symptoms are worse.

Remedies for inflammation

There are steps you can take to reduce inflammation and joint pain. Your diet is a great place to start. There are certain foods which might trigger your symptoms by setting off an inflammatory response in the body, for instance refined carbohydrates such as white pasta, white bread, sugary foods (including fruit juice and other natural sugars), and saturated fats.3

Instead, eating an anti-inflammatory diet including lots of omega 3 and antioxidants can help ease your symptoms. Sources of omega 3 include sardines, walnuts, avocado, flaxseeds, and eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and leafy greens which are rich in antioxidants. Weight loss might be a side-effect of a healthy, balanced diet, which is good news because carrying too much excess weight makes the joints in your knees and hips work harder, which puts strain on them and can contribute to the wearing down of cartilage. Low-impact exercise such as swimming, cycling or yoga are great for people wanting to lose weight without putting undue pressure on joints.

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Anti-inflammatory spices such as ginger, turmeric and curcumin might be useful in your fight against joint inflammation. The bioactive ingredient in ginger root, gingerol, is an anti-inflammatory compound.4 Some studies have shown that ginger extracts can reduce the production of chemicals that promote joint inflammation.5

There are several studies which demonstrate that curcumin, which is the active ingredient in turmeric, has inflammation-fighting properties. It’s thought that curcumin inhibits a number of different molecules that play a role in inflammation.

A Chinese study from 2015 found that a cumin essential oil, which is extracted from cumin seeds, significantly supressed the inflammatory response in test cells.6 Enjoy plenty of these three anti-inflammatory spices in your cooking in place of salt.

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Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.
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Sources

1. [Online] https://www.arthritisresearchuk.org/arthritis-information/conditions/osteoarthritis/what-is-osteoarthritis.aspx.
2. [Online] https://www.arthritisresearchuk.org/arthritis-information/conditions/rheumatoid-arthritis/what-is-rheumatoid-arthritis.aspx.
3. [Online] https://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/arthritis-diet/foods-to-avoid-limit/food-ingredients-and-inflammation-9.php.
4. [Online] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24020099.
5. [Online] https://www.arthritisresearchuk.org/arthritis-information/complementary-and-alternative-medicines/cam-report/complementary-medicines-for-osteoarthritis/ginger/trials-for-oa.aspx.
6. [Online] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4575746/.

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