Where in the Body is Arthritis? All in the Joint
A joint is any place where two or more bones connect, including your shoulder, elbow, knee, and jaw. Adults have over 200 joints, allowing mobility, flexibility, and the ability to stay physically active.
- A flexible tissue called, cartilage, lines bones and keeps them from grinding against each other
- Elastic bands of tissue called, ligaments, joins bones together
- Cords of tissue called, tendons, connect muscles to bones
- Muscles pull on tendons to move joints
These different types of fibrous connective tissue work together to help you perform everyday things like bending, stretching, twisting, and turning.
Arthritis and Other Joint Disorders
We often take these abilities to stay mobile and flexible for granted until something goes wrong. Joint disorders usually involve pain and other symptoms. They range from mild to severe to making it impossible to use a joint.
Some factors that contribute to joint deterioration are:
- Aging (getting older can mean stiffer, less flexible joints)
- Previous injuries
- Losing muscle mass
- Excess weight (this puts extra stress on your bones and joints, especially at the knees)
Many joint disorders and accompanying symptoms occur because of arthritis, which impacts the joints and surrounding tissues.
There are many different types of arthritis. The Arthritis Foundation recognizes over 100 different types. The two most common are osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA), the two leading causes of joint pain.
OA is a painful, degenerative joint disease that often involves the hips, knees, neck, lower back, or small joints of the hands. OA usually develops in joints injured by overuse from a particular task (such as playing sports) or carrying excess body weight.
With OA, injury or repeated impact thins or wears away cartilage, so bones rub together. You lose flexibility as your joint swells, creating pain and inflammation.
Overall, this debilitating joint disorder affects about 21 million people. Researchers found that in 2004 alone, direct and indirect health care costs associated with arthritis cost about 86 billion dollars.
With an autoimmune disease, your body attacks its own tissue (in this case, your joints), destroying your joint lining, impairing mobility, and creating pain and swelling.
Sometimes people confuse the two common conditions, osteoporosis and osteoarthritis, but they develop differently and have different symptoms. Your healthcare professional will diagnose and treat them differently.
Osteoarthritis Versus Rheumatoid Arthritis
Some symptoms of RA and OA overlap, including stiffness and joint pain. Stiffness with RA, however, tends to be worse in the morning and last longer than during OA flare-ups.
Discomfort associated with OA usually occurs within the affected joint or joints, whereas RA is a systemic disease that can also involve weakness and fatigue.
Sometimes arthritis gets classified as inflammatory (RA) or non-inflammatory (OA). However, OA can be inflammatory too. Researchers note a type of OA with middle-aged women that impact the last (closest to the fingernail) and middle joints of the fingers, which can be confused as RA or psoriatic arthritis.
Even with non-inflammatory arthritis, inflammation can occur in joints from wear-and-tear related cartilage breakdown.
OA and RA are both treatable conditions. An early diagnosis and treatment create the best results. Please don’t diagnose yourself or dismiss joint stiffness, pain, and other symptoms as “part of getting older.” A healthcare specialist can classify and treat the specific type of joint disorder you have.
Before you visit, make a note about what time of day symptoms flare-up, specific areas where you feel pain and other discomforts, and any other conditions that can help diagnose your situation.
Your healthcare professional may:
- Perform a physical examination of the arthritic joint
- Order screening tests including an MRI and/or X-rays
- Conduct a blood test to determine whether the arthritis is RA
Fortunately, you have a number of strategies to help prevent joint disorders or reduce the severity of pain and other symptoms if your healthcare professional diagnoses you with a joint disorder.
Ways to Reduce Joint Pain and Support Joint Health
One of the most important things you can do to optimize joint health and reduce your risk for joint disorders is to maintain a healthy weight. Each pound of weight you lose can reduce pressure on your knee joint by four pounds lessening the burden on your knee joint and lowering your risk for OA.
Joint discomfort from OA and other joint disorders can also decrease physical activity, exacerbating weight gain and other existing problems since additional weight strains the joints.
Managing inflammation and oxidative stress (where free radicals overpower your body’s antioxidant defenses) can also optimize joint health. Inflammation plays a role in most types of arthritis—so does oxidative stress, which contributes to OA and RA.
An antioxidant-rich, anti-inflammatory diet becomes ideal to supply the nutrients healthy joints require. About 25 percent of the 217 participants in one study of people with RA reported that diet had a significant effect on their condition.
That joint-supporting plan should include:
- Clean protein. Optimal levels of protein from sources including organic, free-range poultry and wild-caught fish provide the amino acid building blocks your body needs for production of the structural protein collagen and so much more.
- Healthy fats and oils. Avocado, nuts and seeds, and wild-caught fish provide excellent sources of anti-inflammatory fat. Research also shows the anti-inflammatory and joint-protective effects of extra-virgin olive-oil can benefit people with arthritis.
- Cruciferous vegetables. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and other vegetables supply copious nutrients to support joint health including sulforaphane. One study found that mice that consumed a diet rich in this sulfur-containing compound had significantly less cartilage damage and osteoarthritis compared with mice whose diet did not contain sulforaphane.
- Berries (including cherries). Clinical studies show antioxidant-rich foods including strawberries and blueberries can reduce the pain and inflammation associated with arthritis. Others show eating anthocyanin-rich cherries can reduce symptoms of OA including pain and soreness. In one study, people with OA who consumed tart cherry juice daily for six weeks experienced a significant improvement in pain, stiffness, and physical function while lowering inflammatory markers.
- Organic green tea. This beverage earns its health glow for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant support that can benefit many conditions including OA.
- Clean, filtered water. Articular cartilage is made up of 65 to 80 percent water, so drinking at least 64 ounces of water can support healthy joints.
Support Joint Health with the Right Nutrients
Therapeutic amounts of certain nutrients can help arthritis. Researchers find that even when people with RA have sufficient antioxidants levels, for instance, those levels might not be enough to fight oxidative stress. Among the most-researched supplements to support joint health include:
Collagen, as a nutritional supplement rich in amino acids, contributes to supporting joint cartilage and reducing inflammation making it ideal for OA. While most protein sources contain the amino acid building blocks for collagen, bone broth provides them in a more concentrated form.
“This broth, made from meat, poultry, or fish bones and simmered on the stove for hours until it turns into nutrient-rich ‘liquid gold,’ is one of the world’s oldest and most powerful medicinal foods,” says Kellyann Petrucci, ND, in Dr. Kellyann’s Bone Broth Diet.
Bone broth takes time and patience to make. A more efficient way to get therapeutic amounts of collagen is with a supplement powder, which can potentially help stimulate your body’s production of joint collagen.
Supplementing with collagen can benefit OA. That’s because joint tissue absorbs collagen peptides in these supplements, which provides pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory benefits. Collagen supplements can accumulate in and support cartilage.
One 24-week prospective, randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study looked at how collagen could benefit joint health and reduce pain, inflammation, and overall joint deterioration in athletes with activity-related joint pain. Despite a few limitations including study size, researchers found that collagen could benefit joint health and reduce pain in this demographic prone to joint disorders. Another study that focused on knee OA found supplementing daily with collagen could protect cartilage and reduce inflammation.
Collagen supplements typically come as a powder, although beef protein is also rich in collagen-specific amino acids including glycine and proline.
Talk about a workhorse vitamin: It plays a role in the synthesis of L-carnitine, certain neurotransmitters, and protein metabolism. Your body also needs vitamin C as the co-factor to convert the amino acid proline to hydroxyproline in collagen formation. Deficiencies mean that proline cannot effectively convert to hydroxyproline, potentially reducing collagen stability.
Vitamin C supports immunity and works as a powerful antioxidant that can regenerate other antioxidants including vitamin E. As a free-radical fighting antioxidant, vitamin C might help prevent or delay certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, and other diseases driven by oxidative stress.
Researchers find a decreased requirement for opioids in surgical and cancer patients administered high-dose vitamin C. Overall, vitamin C appears to be a safe and effective adjunctive therapy for acute and chronic pain relief, hallmark symptoms of arthritis.
The most-active and studied compound in the spice turmeric, curcumin, carries a host of benefits including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immune-modulating benefits. A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials found that turmeric extract (about 1000 mg/day of curcumin) could alleviate the symptoms of joint arthritis.
Look for a supplement that contains multiple types of curcuminoids (not just curcumin) along with BioPerine® for optimal absorption, and take with a fat-containing meal.
If you’re not eating wild-caught fish regularly, supplementing with fish oil can provide therapeutic amounts of the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). One meta-analysis found a small-to-moderate favorable effect of fish oil in reducing pain for patients with arthritis (evidence was stronger for RA patients).
Talk with your healthcare professional about other supplements to support joint health and reduce symptoms of arthritis, including glucosamine and chondroitin. Discuss alternatives for over-the-counter pain relievers (including acetaminophen), which can have adverse side effects, to relieve pain and other symptoms.
Healthy Lifestyle Strategies for Optimal Joint Health
Food and nutrients provide a solid foundation to support joint health, reduce your risk for arthritis, and manage the pain and other symptoms if you have arthritis. However, there are several lifestyle factors that complement a healthy diet that can optimize joint health:
- Among its benefits, eight to nine hours of solid, uninterrupted sleep helps your body repair and recover. Talk with your healthcare professional if joint pain impedes sleep. Studies show OA can increase the risk of sleep disturbance, which can worsen pain as well as trigger functional disability and depression. Consider a sleep supplement if you have trouble staying or falling asleep.
- Muscle weakness can increase pain levels and reduce physical function. Conversely, strong muscles help support healthy joints. Research that looked at knee OA shows consistent, regular exercise can strengthen joints and reduce pain. Burst training becomes an excellent way to build strong bones and joints, and you can do a complete workout in just 12 minutes. (MaxT3 is an exercise system that includes burst training. Talk with a physical therapist, chiropractor, or physical trainer knowledgeable in joint conditions, such as arthritis, for workouts tailored to your condition if pain or other symptoms inhibit exercise.
- Doing some basic stretching regularly supports joint health to reduce stiffness and protect cartilage. If you need to, set an alarm every hour or so at work to remind yourself to do some basic movements.
- Yoga can help reduce pain, morning stiffness, anxiety, blood pressure, and pulse rate in people with knee OA. Other reviews about yoga and arthritis find the practice can reduce disease symptoms, including tender or swollen joints and pain as well as disability while improving autonomy and mental health.
- Research finds that mindfulness meditation can improve pain, depression symptoms, and quality of life. An eight-week program found that meditation could help reduce knee pain and dysfunction while improving mood and outcomes in adults with knee OA. There are numerous forms of meditation. What matters is the one that works for you that you’ll stick with.
- Chiropractic care. “The place where chiropractic really shines is in maximizing the function of an arthritic joint,” says Robert Hayden, DC, Ph.D. a spokesperson for the American Chiropractic Association, “Our goal is to restore patients’ function so they can have the kind of life they want.” A chiropractor may also use active exercises or traction to slowly stretch your joints and increase your range of motion.
Many of us don’t consider the many functions joints serve until something goes wrong, but these proactive strategies can optimize joint health. If you have arthritis, maintaining the right dietary and lifestyle factors can reduce the pain and other debilitating symptoms.
Nobody should have to live with joint pain. Talk with your healthcare practitioner about individualized strategies to benefit your condition. Never modify any medication without professional consent.