What to Know About Food and Exercise With Joint Pain

If you have joint pain, you know that it can do a very good job of disrupting your normal, everyday lifestyle. Depending on the cause and severity of your pain, changes in your daily routine may be necessary for the short- or long-term. Food and exercise can also play a role in helping your body reduce inflammation and move safely.

Joint Pain Basics

Before diving into food and exercise, it helps to understand a little bit about joint pain. Joint pain is extremely common, but just because it is common does not mean that it is normal. Your pain can be due to injury, overuse, or just sleeping wrong. (For more information on potential causes, read my previous column on the causes of joint pain.)

In general, mild joint pain can be treated at home with short-term rest, icing, elevation and over-the-counter medications. If your pain resolves, then you can continue with your normal activities. However, if you continue to have joint pain and experience other symptoms – significant swelling, warmth at the joint, fever, or weight loss – you should see your physician for further evaluation.

With those basics in mind, there are some things you can do or avoid to help the healing process or to avoid further injury with short-term pain.

Exercising with Joint Pain

Short-term rest of the joint is recommended for joint pain, but that does not mean you have to be inactive. While you may not be able to do all activities or exercises, it is important for healing of most ligament and tendon injuries to continue to move and stay active, instead of not using the body part and keeping weight completely off it.

Your gym or home exercise routine should continue with modifications. In my clinic, I tell patients to let pain be their guide. Listen to your body and adjust your exercise plan based on your pain. During healing, you should limit high impact activities on the specific body area and do exercises that help with range of motion (ROM) and strengthening.

Unsafe exercises to avoid include very high impact exercises, uncontrolled and quick movements and using too heavy of weights.

Nutrition for Joint Pain

There are many diets to consider for joint pain and weight loss. It seems like there is a new one every couple of months and that can get very confusing for most people. In general, for joint pain and injury you should focus on a healthy balanced diet with the appropriate portions of food.

There is no diet cure for arthritis or inflammation, but there are certain foods that help to fight inflammation, boost your immune system and strengthen bones. Certain foods can help with reducing inflammation in the body, including fish, fruits, vegetables and healthy dairy. Some foods – fried and processed foods, sugars, and alcohol – increase inflammation. Tobacco can also increase inflammation.

You can find multiple anti-inflammatory diets online, but my advice is to adhere to a healthy balanced diet that includes foods that reduce inflammation; limit inflammatory foods as much as possible. Dietary supplements and vitamins can also be considered and should be discussed with your physician. There are supplements to help with bone health and strength, such as vitamin D and calcium. Turmeric and glucosamine also address joint pain and inflammation.

While exercise and diet can be helpful in home treatment programs for joint pain, it may not be enough to resolve underlying issues. Your physician should evaluate joint pain that continues despite the above remedies or joint pain that is severe and limiting. While mild, short-term pain is common; severe or debilitating pain is never normal and needs further evaluation and treatment by your physician to avoid joint damage or further injury. If you are unsure, always err on the side of caution and let your physician evaluate.


Dr. Szepiela is board certified in physical medicine and rehabilitation, sports medicine and has a specialized interest in spinal intervention. Learn more about him through his contributor bio and physician profile.

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