Stiff, achy joints pretty much go hand in hand with aging, but complaints tend to skyrocket right around menopause, according to the North American Menopause Society. Inflammation brought on by hormone changes may be to blame. Why do both men and women get achy joints as they age? And why are even younger people sometimes afflicted with the pain of achy joints as well? What can they do to reduce the pain? Are there exercises and nutritional support which help? What OTC medications help? Salonpas® visited with some leading doctors, nutritionists and other wellness professionals to find a ‘prescription’ for pain free joints.
“When a woman goes into menopause, the first thing that happens is the loss of progesterone and estrogen,” said Dr. David Borenstein, a leading integrative medicine physician. “Progesterone is a relaxing hormone and the muscles don’t relax as much as this hormone decreases. Additionally there is an inflammatory response associated with low estrogen.”
“When a patient presents with achy joints, it is important to look at the entire person and not treat for one or two issues,” says Dr. Borenstein. “A review of all hormone levels, potential vitamin deficiencies, stress levels, etc. need to be reviewed. Extra body weight increases the pain in joints and being overweight also causes more inflammation as fat is inflammatory.”
“The foods we choose to eat — or not to eat — affect inflammation,” said Rene Ficek, Registered Dietitian and Lead Nutrition Expert at
Seattle Sutton’s Healthy Eating. There are several types of foods that have shown to exaggerate inflammation because they themselves are irritants which include:
While a little won’t hurt you, a lot will. Too much sugar has been shown to release cytokines, also known as extra immunity messengers. These cytokines are proteins released from cells that trigger inflammation.
Processed, packaged, or prepared foods
Fast food is atop the list of inflammatory foods thanks to the harmful oils, sugar and artificial sweeteners, food additives, and a whole host of nasty ingredients. “Refined” products have no fiber and have a high glycemic index. They are everywhere: white rice, white flour, white bread, pasta, pastries.
Red and Processed Meat
Animal fats have been linked to inflammation in a number of studies. Saturated fat contains a compound the body uses to create inflammation naturally called arachidonic acid. Diets lower in this molecule have anti-inflammatory effects and have been shown to improve symptoms in those suffering with rheumatoid arthritis.
Artificial Food Additives
Aspartame and MSG are two common food additives that can trigger inflammation responses.
“On the bright side, getting your fair share of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meat and omega-3 fatty acids, has been suggested to have anti-inflammatory effects,” says Ficek. “The key to eating an anti-inflammatory diet is to replace omega 6 fatty acids with omega 3 fatty acids. When balance has been restored, you reduce your risk of many chronic diseases.” Below are several ways Ficek recommends to ensure an anti-inflammatory diet:
Go vegetarian, or at least part time vegetarian
A plant-based diet tends to be much lower in inflammatory substances while meat tends to cause inflammation. At least once a week (meatless Monday) go vegetarian. This weekly habit will encourage experimentation with new foods and flavors.
Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables
These are rich in Phytochemicals — natural chemicals found in the plant foods suggested on the diets — are also believed to help reduce inflammation.
Spice it up
Ginger, curry, tumeric and other spices can have an anti-inflammatory effect.
Some people suffering from joint pain find pain relief from physical therapy and chiropractic doctors. “Chiropractors will do a physical examination to review the body as a whole,” says Dr. Sherry McAllister who runs her own practice and is Executive Vice President of the Foundation for Chiropractic Progress, a not-for-profit organization that aims to inform and educate the public regarding the benefits of chiropractic care. “This examination will include an orthopedic, neurological and musculoskeletal examination. The joints that are particularly sensitive will be given greater attention.”
Richard Sedillo, PT, COMT (Certified Orthopedic Manual Therapist) of Arizona Manual Therapy Centers says that “as we age, our bodies slow down and our joints do not go through their full Range of Motion (ROM). In addition, hydration levels often suffer as we age causing the elastin (the stretchy stuff), to further decrease causing stiffness. This commonly occurs in middle age, when people are often working (sitting at a desk/computer) too much and not stretching and exercising enough. Restrictions in joint mobility cause capsule tightness and subsequently stiff and achy joints.”
“Typically sitting for long periods of time can result in joint stiffness and pain when one attempts to get up,” says Sedillo. “The best remedy to reduce stiffness and associated pain is a daily regimen of stretching, hydration and putting every joint through full range of motion exercises. I often tell my patients to stretch every morning and/or before bed. It is ideal to stretch in a steam shower to really loosen the muscles and the joints.”
A newer therapy to help ease body pain is the the MELT Method. The MELT Method was created by manual therapist Sue Hitzmann to allow people of all ages to enjoy pain-free living. MELT uses a unique soft roller and Hand and Foot Treatment balls to rehydrate the connective tissue, which surrounds every joint, muscle, nerve, bone, and organ. Repetitive postures and movements dehydrate this tissue, leading to chronic issues, including pain. MELT gives you the tools and techniques to help joints stay pain-free.
“Joints are often the victim of heavy, explosive training programs from Cross Fit to plyometric and HIIT-style programs,” says Sue Hitzmann, creator of the MELT Method. “MELTing, after a heavy bout of exercise, can help reduce joint inflammation and excessive stiffness in the connective tissue system – a key cause of low back and neck pain.
“Achy joints can affect people no matter their age because they are the result of repetitive postures and movements, which dehydrate the connective tissue,” says Hitzmann. “The repetitive stresses of daily living, as well as other stressors such as exercise, create ‘stuck stresses in the connective tissue. Stuck stress interferes with the nervous system’s ability to regulate itself and slows down the body’s natural healing process.”
“Even sitting for long periods of time can cause achy joints,” says Hitzmann. “When you sit all day, the tissues in the lower body are in a constant state of tension and compression. When you compress or pull on your tissues for long periods of time, you damage the collagen fibers. This decreases the flexible supportive environment connective tissue creates, and ultimately you get what I call pre-pain signals, like joint stiffness, when you finally do get up from your chair. In a way, being older just means more time for this stuck stress to build up.”
Many people suffering from achy joints report that the Salonpas® Pain Relief Patch, the first FDA-approved OTC topical pain patches for the temporary relief of mild to moderate muscles and joints aches and pains associated with arthritis, helps ease their pain and enable them to continue to exercise.