Suffering from arthritis aches and pains? Try these foods, exercises, and home remedies that bring on pain relief naturally.
1. Sip ginger tea
Numerous studies have found that ginger can mimic NSAIDs, the front-line drugs for arthritis pain relief. It seems to work by curbing pain-causing chemicals that are part of the body’s inflammatory response—without the side effects common in medications. Use powdered, raw, or lightly cooked fresh ginger liberally on food. Make your own ginger tea by simmering slices of ginger for 15 minutes in a few cups of boiling water, or buy ginger tea bags at the supermarket. And don’t miss these arthritis symptoms you could be ignoring.
2. Eat inflammation-fighting foods
Ditch the fast food, junk food, fried food, and processed food if you want to improve joint pain. A Swedish study of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients found that those who switched to a Mediterranean-style–eating plan (think fresh fruits, veggies, whole grains, fish, olive oil, nuts, garlic, onions, and herbs) had less inflammation and regained some physical abilities as a result. Here are 16 anti-inflammatory foods that you can eat to reduce pain.
3. Breath in fragrant spices
Pleasant aromas like lavender can alter the perception of pain, studies show. Japanese researchers found that lavender reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can make you feel relaxed and less aware of pain. But lavender isn’t the only pleasant aroma that works as a natural home remedy for arthritis pain relief. Korean researchers found that arthritis patients experienced less pain and were less depressed when they were exposed to the aromas of a variety of kitchen spices, including marjoram, rosemary, and peppermint. For a pain-soothing aromatherapy treatment, add a teaspoon of one of these dried herbs to a quarter-cup of olive, coconut, or vegetable oil. Take a whiff periodically.
4. Wash dishes by hand
It sounds counterintuitive, but this simple kitchen task soothes hands experiencing arthritis pain. How does that work? First, dipping your hands in hot water can help relax muscles and joints and relieve stiffness. Second, the exercise of gripping and spongeing helps keep your hands and fingers mobile, which also helps with joint pain relief.
5. Make your own heat pad
Fill a cotton sock with uncooked rice grains and seal it. (Caution: Don’t use a synthetic-fiber sock, which could melt if heated.) Microwave on high for 2-3 minutes. When it cools down slightly but is still nice and warm, place it on sore, stiff joints. Your DIY heat pad should stay warm for about half an hour. The rice grains will shape to your body and provide soothing heat. If you have lavender or another fragrant herb on hand, toss it in with the rice grains for an additional relaxing aromatherapy treatment, too.
6. Make your own capsaicin cream
Capsaicin, the compound in chili peppers that gives them their heat, is an ingredient in many over-the-counter pain relief ointments. It works by reducing levels of a compound called substance P, which transmits pain signals to your brain. You can whip up your own massage oil by mixing a few dashes of ground cayenne with 2-3 teaspoons of olive oil. Apply it with gauze to unbroken skin on your painful joints several times a day. The first few doses will cause a mild burning sensation on the surface of your skin, but you’ll become desensitized to that feeling after a week or so. Just be sure to keep it away from your mouth, eyes, and other mucous membranes, where it will really sting.
7. Apply a chamomile tea poultice
Chamomile tea is an anti-inflammatory that may help with joint-pain relief. Brew a strong infusion using four chamomile tea bags in a cup or so of hot water. Steep, covered, for 20 minutes, then squeeze and remove tea bags. Soak a clean cloth in the cooling liquid and apply to achy joints.
8. Give joints the cold-hot treatment
You’ll need two containers for this treatment—but the relief is palpable and worth the trouble. Fill one container with cold water and a tray of ice cubs; the other with hot water at a temperature you can tolerate to touch. Starting with cold, immerse the aching joint for a minute, then switch to the hot water and immerse for 30 seconds. Keep switching from cold to hot for about 15 minutes, immersing the affected joint in each for 30 seconds each time. Finish with cold water and hold for a full minute.
9. Sip 4 cups of green tea a day
In a study on mice, Case Western Reserve University researchers gave one group the equivalent of four cups of green tea a day and the other group the same amount of plain water. Then they gave all mice a substance to induce RA. The tea-drinking mice were far less likely to develop arthritis than the mice that drank water. Other research has found tea’s polyphenol antioxidants were anti-inflammatory, improved arthritis-related immune responses, and significantly reduced cartilage damage.
10. Go for a swim
Swimming has long been recommended as a good exercise for people with arthritis; the weightlessness reduces the impact on joints while the exercise and improved circulation can help you find joint pain relief. A Taiwanese study found that working out in water significantly improves knee and hip flexibility, strength, and aerobic fitness. Meanwhile, an Australian study found that such programs also resulted in less pain and better overall function. Ask your local health club, hospital, or swimming pool about classes specifically designed for people with arthritis.
11. Stir in some turmeric
The yellow spice found in curries and ballpark mustard contains a powerful compound called curcumin, which inhibits enzymes and proteins that promote inflammation. Several studies have found that turmeric specifically reduces pain and swelling in arthritis patients. In one study of people with knee osteoarthritis, those who ate just 2 grams of the spice a day (less than a teaspoon) had pain relief and increased mobility equal to those who took 800 milligrams of ibuprofen. How to get some curcumin in your diet? Sprinkle ½ teaspoon on rice or in vegetables daily. Or keep some packets of ballpark mustard in your pocket and break them out at lunchtime—it’s the perfect dose for arthritis pain relief.
12. Make sure you get enough vitamin C
Vitamin C not only helps produce collagen, a major component of joints, but sweeps the body of destructive free radicals, which are harmful to joints. One of the best-known studies looking into vitamin C and arthritis found that people whose diets routinely included high amounts of vitamin C had significantly less risk of their arthritis progressing. Spread out your intake throughout the day because your body doesn’t store vitamin C; rather, it takes what it needs from the bloodstream at any given time and flushes out the rest. This means a megadose in the morning doesn’t really do as much good. Sip citrus drinks or eat C-rich fruits and vegetables such as strawberries or melon, broccoli, or sweet peppers.
13. Add cloves to your diet
Cloves contain an anti-inflammatory chemical called eugenol that interferes with a bodily process that triggers arthritis. In one animal study, eugenol prevented the release of COX-2, a protein that spurs inflammation (the same protein that COX-2 inhibitor drugs like Celebrex target). Cloves also contain antioxidants, which are important in slowing the cartilage and bone damage caused by arthritis. Aim for ½ to 1 teaspoon a day for joint pain relief.
14. Load up on omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are excellent at relieving inflammation and soothing joints. Coldwater fish such as salmon and tuna are among the best dietary sources. But your body may need more omega-3s than you can consume from eating fish alone, so talk to your doctor about adding an omega-3 supplement. And always cook with olive oil over corn oil. Olive oil contains omega-3s and antioxidants that have been shown to reduce inflammation.
15. Stick to low-allergenic foods
Food allergies may play a role in autoimmune illnesses like RA. Researchers at the University of Oslo in Norway found that people with RA had higher levels of antibodies to cow’s milk, eggs, codfish, and pork than people who didn’t have the condition. In one study, people with RA who followed a diet that eliminated common foods associated with allergies, such as grains (especially gluten-containing wheat products), nuts, milk, and eggs for 10 to 18 days had significant improvement in symptoms. When they started eating these foods again, they felt worse. Other studies have found that corn, wheat, oranges, oats, rye, eggs, beef, and coffee may also be problematic. Many of these foods help produce arachidonic acid, a body chemical linked to inflammation.
16. Turn up the tunes
Listening to your favorite music can ease pain (it may raise levels of hormones that reduce your pain sensitivity). In one Cleveland Clinic Foundation study of people with back, neck, or joint pain, one group was given a playlist of relaxing tunes, a second group chose their own soundtrack, and a third didn’t get a musical prescription at all. The two music-listening groups had lower rates of arthritis pain, depression, and disability than the non-music group, which experienced an increase in pain. The study also indicated that the kind of music you listen to doesn’t matter, as long as you like it. People who chose their own tunes experienced a greater reduction in pain, depression, and disability than those who listened to generic relaxing music.
17. Make a ginger poultice
Applying crushed ginger to a painful join works along the same lines as capsaicin—elements in the plant can deplete the body’s stores of substance P, a brain chemical that carries pain messages to your central nervous system. One study of 56 people found that ginger eased symptoms in 55 percent of people with osteoarthritis and 74 percent of those with RA. To treat yourself, peel and finely mince a 3-inch piece of fresh ginger. Mix it with just enough olive oil to form a paste, then apply it to the painful joint. Depending on where the pain is, you may need to wrap the paste in place with a gauze or a length of ace bandage. Leave in place for 10-15 minutes to allow the ginger to penetrate.
18. Walk barefoot
Going au naturel reduces the load on knee joints, minimizing pain and disability from osteoarthritis by 12 percent compared to walking with shoes, according to a Rush University Medical Center study of 75 people with osteoarthritis. When you must don shoes, find footwear that mimics your natural arch and heel contour, but doesn’t lift up the heel, which puts more pressure on the joints. Orthotics are another option.
19. Switch over to spicy food when arthritis flairs
Spices such as cayenne pepper, ginger, and turmeric contain compounds that reduce swelling and block a brain chemical that transmits pain signals. Look up some spicy Mexican, Indian, and Thai recipes (or keep a bottle of hot sauce on the dinner table at all times).
20. Up your calcium intake
Getting too little calcium raises the risk of osteoporosis, a brittle-bone condition that accelerates if you have RA. Men and women should get 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day, 1,200 for women over 50 and men over 70. Dairy is the most famous source of calcium, but it’s also found in such veggies as cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, kohlrabi, broccoli, and turnip greens. Here are 11 foods with more calcium than a glass of milk.
21. Make a spice rack joint rub
Add a little cayenne, rosemary, or thyme to ½ cup olive or vegetable oil and use it as a rub for meat. All these herbs have pain-soothing properties and offer natural arthritis pain relief.
22. Soak up some sun
Many people with arthritis are deficient in vitamin D, which appears to play a role in the production of collagen in joints. Studies find that getting more vitamin D may protect joints from osteoarthritis damage. To boost your D levels, get some sun for 10 to 15 minutes every day, two to three times a week—that’s all it takes for your body to synthesize what it needs.
23. Consider these supplements
Ask your doctor whether any of these supplements might be right for you.
Ginger extract twice a day. Researchers from the University of Miami found ginger significantly reduced knee pain in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee, as well as improved how the knee worked. Ginger has anti-inflammatory effects, just like ibuprofen.
Fish-oil capsules. A British study found that 86 percent of people with arthritis who took cod liver oil had far fewer enzymes that cause cartilage damage compared to those who got a placebo. Plus, they had far fewer pain-causing enzymes. Cod liver oil is a fish oil, so your basic fish-oil supplement will do fine.
Vitamin E containing pure alpha-tocopherols. A German study found taking 1,500 IU of vitamin E every day reduced pain and morning stiffness and improved grip strength in people with RA as well as prescription medication.
Glucosamine/chondroitin. This combination supplement may provide long-term pain relief and slow the degeneration of cartilage. Some researchers believe that glucosamine and chondroitin may repair damaged cartilage. It appears to help some patients and not others; if it’s working for you, you should experience relief within two to three months. If you do experience relieve, after about a month you should be able to stop taking ibuprofen or other NSAIDs. If you don’t see a benefit by three months, you’re probably not going to.