I’m suffering from joint pain. What can I do for relief?
How a naturopath approaches to relieve joint pain
Patients often come to me after seeing a physician for their joint pain, so the first thing I ask is what tests have been done by a doctor. Simple blood tests can check for diseases that are associated with joint pain, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, while an X-ray can look for structural issues with the joint. It’s important to rule these out to know the best way to approach the problem and whether to refer someone to a more appropriate health professional.
Next, I would proceed with an assessment to see how the joint reacts to movement. I would also ask about any injuries, when the pain began, how often it occurs, how intense it is and what it feels like. This can help determine the cause of pain because muscle pain is typically duller and more dispersed, whereas nerve pain tends to be sharper and shoot or radiate in a certain direction.
If the pain is caused by osteoarthritis, I would recommend some supplements to try to rebuild the cartilage. Taking collagen, glucosamine or methylsulfonylmethane or even drinking bone broth can help. I might also suggest a natural anti-inflammatory, such as curcumin, to relieve joint pain and control inflammation, but this is just a short-term solution while we address the root of the problem.
Or, if the pain is due to a structural or biomechanical issue – be it an injury or arthritis – I would refer you to a chiropractor, massage therapist or physiotherapist to work on the joint externally.
But not all joint pain can be explained by biomechanics.
As a naturopathic doctor, I’m interested in your body as a whole, so I might ask about your energy, digestion and even thirst and urination. Certain conditions, such as uncontrolled celiac disease, can create inflammation in the body, which leads to joint pain.
I’d also ask about stress. The adrenal glands are our internal source of natural corticosteroids, which reduce pain and inflammation. But excess stress can lead to HPA axis dysfunction, which is commonly referred to as adrenal fatigue. Plus, stress can cause muscles to tighten, so joints can’t move as freely as they should. Fortunately, joint pain is quite treatable, but how long it takes to get relief depends on the cause. Here’s more on what really happens to your body when you’re stressed.
Dr. Pamela Frank is a naturopathic doctor and clinic director at Forces of Nature Wellness Clinic in Toronto.
How a physiotherapist approaches to relieve joint pain
When people come in with joint pain, it’s usually the result of one of three problems: an injury, such as a sprain or whiplash; overuse from repetitive behaviours, such as slouching or even texting; or a disease, such as lupus or arthritis. There are many different kinds of arthritis, but osteoarthritis (OA), which occurs when the cartilage wears down over time, is most common.
Sometimes the cause of the pain is obvious – particularly if you’ve had a recent injury – but other times it’s not as clear. To help determine what’s wrong, we would explore what makes the pain worse and what makes it better. I’d also ask if you have a history of autoimmune disease, whether there’s arthritis in your family and if you’ve experienced any major injuries (because, over time, trauma to the bone can surface as OA). Other health factors, such as obesity, can also put a strain on large joints, such as the hips and knees, and lead to OA.
Next, I would do a physical examination of the joint. If it’s swollen and warm, this often indicates inflammation in the joint fluids, which can often mean arthritis. If the pain is symmetrical, meaning that it happens on both sides of the body and is accompanied by symptoms like fatigue, this might indicate rheumatoid arthritis – conditions that relate to injuries or overuse are more likely to occur on just one side. If it looks like rheumatoid arthritis, you’ll be sent to a doctor to confirm your diagnosis through a blood test and possibly X-ray imaging.
Depending on the cause of your pain, there are a number of physiotherapy strategies that can help.
If your pain is caused by poor posture, we can talk about sitting differently, so that you won’t strain your neck, and introduce heat, ice or even acupuncture to relieve joint pain.
And no matter what the cause of the pain, exercises are an important part of treatment.
I would teach you exercises that not only strengthen the surrounding muscles and improve mobility but also prevent similar injuries in the future. If you sprain your ankle, you’ll be coached to stand on one leg with your eyes closed or while turning your head to help retrain your balance and prevent future falls. Next, don’t miss these other tips for maintaining healthy joints.
Nancy Baxter is a physiotherapist and co-owner of Lakeview Physiotherapy & Acupuncture in Calgary.