Joint account

Natural ways to look after your joints

Pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints is more commonly known as arthritis, although there are different varieties of the condition. According to the organisation Versus Arthritis, there are thought to be around 10 million people in the UK who are affected by it.

“Arthritis is not the preserve of the elderly, as is often thought,” says Henrietta Norton, a nutritional therapist and founder of Wild Nutrition (www.wildnutrition.com). “In fact, joint degeneration and indeed autoimmune-related joint concerns such as rheumatoid arthritis can begin at any age. Looking after our joints through diet and lifestyle at a young age is both a very powerful preventative measure as well as effective support for existing conditions.”

Here are some top natural ways to look after the health of your joints.

Eat a rainbow

“Vegetables and fruits are high in vitamin C, which is essential for collagen production and the health of cartilage,” says Henrietta. “Each ‘colour’ within a vegetable provides a different array of natural anti-inflammatory chemicals called ‘phytochemicals’ such as flavonoids. They are also rich in a variety of antioxidants (such as vitamin C or beta carotene) to quench free radicals that can exacerbate inflammation and damage to the joints. The deeper root vegetables are also an excellent source of trace minerals needed to support the immune system and bone density (particularly important in cases of osteoarthritis or osteopenia). I recommend aiming for five to seven servings of mixed-coloured vegetables per day – think of a rainbow of colour on your plate!”

Try some turmeric

“Nutrition becomes more and more important for joint health as we age,” says Keeley Berry, Nutritional Expert and New Product Development Executive at BetterYou (betteryou.com). “As we get older, our production of hydrochloric acid reduces and this in turn reduces our ability to break down and absorb the nutrients from our food; therefore supplementation may be needed. Turmeric is often used for the management and treatment of inflammatory conditions due to its potent curcumin content. Research has shown that it can pose as an alternative therapeutic treatment. This is due to curcumin molecules interacting with numerous molecular targets involved in inflammation. Whilst inflammation is a normal response within the body, too much or too strong of an inflammatory response can result in joint pain – so upping your intake of this orange spice may help to ease any discomfort.”

Top up your magnesium levels

“Magnesium is an essential mineral which supports bone and joint health,” says Keeley. “It stimulates the activity of cells critical to bone formation. And, by encouraging the body to absorb calcium, it prevents calcification in muscles and soft tissue, helping the body to maintain flexibility and movement. Green leafy vegetables, whole grains and nuts are great nutritional sources of magnesium so increasing your intake will also support joint health.”

Seek some herbal help

“Some herbs have anti-inflammatory properties similar to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, but without the risk of gastric complications that can sometimes be associated with their long-term use,” says Dr Dick Middleton, registered pharmacist and director of the British Herbal Medicine Association (www.bhma.info). “Modern research has shown that herbs such as Devil’s Claw and Sigesbeckia tablets, taken orally, may relieve muscle aches, minor sports injuries, joint pain and backache. Arnica gel and comfrey oil can also be applied topically to the affected area to help slow the inflammatory processes. These herbal medicines can be bought from most good independent health food stores but always make sure that you choose a herbal medicine displaying the THR symbol on its packaging. This symbol guarantees that it has been checked for quality and safety assurance, and approved for sale in the UK by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.”

Enjoy your fats

“Another important nutrient is omega-3 fatty acids,” says Henrietta. “This type of fatty acid – especially EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) found in oily fish – can be converted into substances in the body that help to control inflammation. To get more omega-3, eat oily fish such as sardines, mackerel, trout and salmon two or three times a week, and include omega-3-rich seeds – flaxseeds and chia seeds – and cold-pressed oils of these seeds in your diet. Raw nuts and other seeds are rich in omega-6 essential fatty acids and also contain some omega-3, and can also be excellent sources of nutrients such as magnesium, zinc and calcium that are important for bone health.”

Choose suitable footwear

“Having suitable footwear can significantly assist people with joint pain,” says Julie Jennings, independent occupational therapist at HSL Chairs (www.hslchairs.com). “Shoes that are well fitting, offer cushioning in the sole and that are not too high will assist in supporting and protecting the joints in your feet, ankles, knees, hips and back. Avoid shoes with narrow heels as the impact of walking creates tiny shock waves that transmit up the heel and into the knees. The narrower the heel the more impact is directed into the joint. People with joint pain generally find boots that support the ankle joint, shoes with rubber soles, wedge heels and memory foam insoles generally more supportive and comfortable.”

Ditch the heavy bags

“Carrying heavy bags should be avoided as this will increase the impact upon your shoulders, elbows and wrists,” says Julie. “Avoid carrying handbags with thin straps as this will focus the pressure into one particular spot. Try and distribute weight evenly where you can; using rucksacks with wide padded straps will help spread heavier loads without stressing the upper limbs. Using a wheeled shopping trolley will reduce the impact further, but make sure the height of the trolley is suitable to avoid you twisting or stooping whilst walking.”

Enjoy a warm bath

“Take a warm bath or shower,” says Julie. “Whilst this can be done at any time of the day it will be most effective on a morning as the heat will help blood to flow more easily to the surface of the skin and soothe painful/aching joints. Taking a warm bath on an evening can be both relaxing and therapeutic; a 20-minute soak will again warm up your joints and if you gently mobilise your joints this will ease out any stiffness present. Using a soft washcloth or sponge to massage stiff, aching joints will again assist with blood flow and reduce any swelling present. Stay in the bath or shower long enough to warm up your body for best relief.”

Get up and go!

Julian Keel, a registered chiropractor with over 25 years’ experience (www.barnes-chiropractic.co.uk) suggests some simple exercises to help ward off or ease joint pain.

1. ‘Floor’ or ‘wall angels’
Lean up against the wall or lie on the floor with your arms at your sides. Try to keep your body and arms in as much contact as possible with the wall or floor. Slowly sweep your arms up as high as you can manage without lifting them away from the surface and then slowly bring them back to your sides – think of snow angel motions. Repeat 15 times.

2. Lunges
Do walking lunges across the floor: 10 steps up and 10 steps back. Or, if pushed for space, do ‘clock lunges’ whereby you point your right leg in the direction of 12 o’clock, then 2, then 4 then 6 o’clock. Then point your left leg out to 6, then 8, then 10 and 12 o’clock.

3. Supported squats
Hold onto something that can take your weight and gently lower yourself into as deep a squat as possible with your feet flat on the floor and your shins vertical.

4. Work your feet
Try rolling one foot over a tennis ball or golf ball for two minutes and then swap feet.

5. Prayer hands
Press your palms together with all fingers touching. Lower your wrists until they’re at the same height as your elbows and hold for 15 seconds. Then try the reverse of this by placing the backs of your hands together with your fingers pointed upwards.

Did you know?

Collagen has shown benefits for joint pain, including both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

Glucosamine and/or chondroitin provide the building blocks for cartilage production and repair.

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