Joint pain is a common health problem that can affect your range of motion, strength and overall well-being. Joint pain can affect one or many joints and is usually caused by injury or by arthritis. One of the things you can do to provide pain relief as well as to reduce inflammation is change your diet. Let’s look at what causes joint pain and the top 5 worst foods for joint pain.
Joint pain 101
When you have either arthritis or pain in your joints due to injury, what causes the actual pain is usually tissue inflammation. Inflammation is a normal response of the body to help itself heal. However, when it is present over a long period of time, it becomes no longer helpful; instead, it becomes a chronic condition.
In some cases, you can experience damage to the bone or cartilage. Such damage means that further intervention beyond taking anti-inflammatories, making changes to your diet, improving your fitness routine and participating in physical therapy are needed.
Common types of joint pain
Some of the most common types of joint pain include:
- Knee pain: Your knee is a vulnerable joint. It supports the full weight of your body. People who are overweight are particularly susceptible to knee pain.
- Inflammation of the joint lining: This is usually caused by injury. Normally this condition is not chronic.
- Gout: This is a type of arthritis that is often caused by increased levels of uric acid in the blood.
- Fractures: Even after the healing, fractures can still cause joint pain – especially if they didn’t heal correctly or fully or if the healing process wasn’t accompanied by physical therapy.
- Arthritis: The types of arthritis are many, including reactive arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and Osgood-Schlatter’s disease, among others.
- Medications: Some medications actually have a joint pain as a negative side effect.
- Viral infections: Some viral infections, including hepatitis and rubella, can cause joint pain.
- Other less common causes: lupus, sclerodoma and Behcet’s syndrome
Top 5 worst foods for joint pain
Everything we eat contains components that directly affect the cells in our bodies. In some cases, they promote proper functioning. But in other cases, they can cause cell damage or dysfunction. In the case of joint pain caused by inflammation, foods that worsen joint pain are those that trigger inflammation, usually occurring in areas we cannot detect with the naked eye.
To help alleviate joint pain, talk to your physician about removing these foods from your diet:
Food Group #1: corn, sunflower, safflower and cottonseed oils
Unsaturated fats are generally considered to be better for your health. However, not all unsaturated fats are created equally. Omega-3 fatty acids help to fight inflammation, but high levels of Omega-6 fatty acids, which are often found together with some Omega-3s, can actually trigger inflammation, making your pain worse.
Food group #2: high-sugar foods
These include sugary sodas, some breakfast cereals, candy and baked goods. Research shows that the consumption of too much sugar, particularly from sugar-sweetened beverages, is associated with an increased risk of rheumatoid arthritis. This is because high-sugar diets can trigger the release of inflammatory messengers called cytokines. The negative effect goes beyond joint pain: it can also increase the risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Food group #3: dairy products
Saturated fats consumed in the diet trigger inflammation that can worsen joint pain. In the standard American diet, pizza and cheese are the top sources of saturated fat. Avoid cheese and other sources of saturated fat to reduce joint pain caused by inflammation.
If you crave the taste of cheese, you can take advantage of a number of quality vegan cheese brand options such as Follow Your Heart, Miyoko’s or Field Roast. You can even mix nutritional yeast flakes with plant-based milk and a few other ingredients to make a nice creamy sauce.
Food group #4: processed foods, fried foods and fast food
Convenience foods such as cookies, donuts, red meat, fried foods and frozen breakfast products often contain trans fats. Trans fats trigger systematic inflammation that may have negative health effects that go way beyond your joints.
Food group #5: white bread
White bread is made from refined flour, which is a source of simple carbohydrates. Refined carbohydrates may be just as bad (or worse!) than fats when it comes to triggering chronic conditions, including inflammation. White bread, as well as white rice, white potatoes and many other cereals are high glycemic index foods, which fuel the production of end products that simulate inflammation.
So what can you do to prevent joint pain?
One of the easiest things you can do to help reduce joint pain is to modify your diet to exclude these foods that may be causing or worsening your condition. A plant-based diet or the Mediterranean diet is a huge step in the right direction when it comes to reducing that pain. Try integrating the following foods into your diet:
- Whole grains
- Leafy greens
- Sweet potatoes
- Green tea
- Nuts and seeds
- Soy (tofu, tempeh, soy milk, etc)
If you have joint pain as a result of an injury, it is possible that the discomfort is caused by a healing issue after the trauma. You can prevent and treat this sort of joint pain with physical therapy as prescribed by a medical practitioner.
If you are experiencing joint pain, talk to your doctor to identify the cause and decide whether modifying your diet is a good option for you.
If you detect joint pain and don’t do anything to change your habits or lifestyle, it is likely that the pain, stiffness and inflammation will get worse over time.
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This post has been updated as of December 2018 with new information and resources.