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Joint venture

Paul Parker suggests some tips for looking after your joints naturally

Joint pain can occur for a number of reasons. The most common is called osteoarthritis, when the cartilage between bones wears away, causing the joints to become stiff and sore. It typically (but not always) happens from middle age onwards.

Other causes include rheumatoid arthritis, which is an autoimmune condition where uncontrolled inflammation can damage the cartilage. There are other conditions that can cause joint pain; more recently joint pain is the third most common symptom of long Covid. If you suffer from joint pain, the first step is always to find out what’s causing your pain, so that you can make plans which help you to manage it.

Break the spiral

Joint pain can be triggered by lots of factors such as poor diet, obesity, poor sleep hygiene, too little or too much exercise, stress and injuries. As symptoms become causes, your pain can spiral. Overexertion on one day can lead to a poor night’s sleep, increased pain the next day, lower mood, poor diet choices and so the spiral begins. Harnessing positive wellbeing choices is a great way to break the spiral and it can start with something as simple as a healthy food swap or meal to kickstart an uptick in your mood.

Trying to eat more whole foods instead of processed foods is a good first step. For example, swapping breakfast cereal for a bowl of porridge. Also increasing the amount of water is a simple way to improve your nutrition. On their own these changes will be unlikely to make a noticeable difference, but if they are the start of introducing more positive habits then you’re on the pathway to improving your pain symptoms. One of the other key factors which worsens joint pain is obesity. So if you struggle with your weight then reducing your calorie intake in a sustainable way is a really positive step too.

Manage your symptoms

Finding the right level of movement for you is a great way to manage your pain symptoms. Called ‘pacing’, working out how much activity your joint pain is comfortable with will help you to manage your pain symptoms. It’s a little like Goldilocks: too much or too little exercise will worsen your symptoms, whilst somewhere in the middle will help.

If you struggle with joint pain then exercise can feel really daunting – literally the last thing you want to do. That’s why we always focus on movement rather than exercise. Depending on your pain symptoms, start with simple activities which you know you can do safely; walking is a common starting point. Find a level that you can do without worsening your symptoms and try to repeat daily. Gradually build this up and you’ll likely feel your pain symptoms improve. Daily movement outside is a great way to boost mood and help you make positive wellbeing choices elsewhere in your day.

Track your progress

Along with walking, other forms of movement that clients find beneficial are swimming, where the water takes the load from your joints, and also chair-based activities. Stretching is often overlooked as a form of exercise in itself; however, if you are starting from a no, or little activity level, stretching your muscles can help. With any exercise, start slowly and increase gradually at your own pace that feels comfortable to you.

We’re huge advocates of journalling. By tracking your pain symptoms, alongside changes you make to your diet, movement patterns and sleep habits, you can identify the progress you’re making. You can also start to recognise what helps and what worsens your symptoms. If you don’t journal, take five minutes at the start and end of each day to record your symptoms and the key parts of your day. It will really help to build your understanding of your pain.

Paul Parker is the co-founder of Joint Pain Coach.

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