Manage Your Joint Pain / Arthritis
Without Drugs (Part II)
By Dr. Peter Borten, LAc, DAOM, Acupuncturist and Herbalist at The Dragontree Spa and Creator of Imbue Pain Relief Patch
In my last blog on this topic, I introduced some of the mechanisms behind joint pain, and discussed one of the most basic approaches to drugless treatment – massaging the joint. This time, we’ll talk about some more things you can do to manage your joint pain.
First, be sure it’s actually coming from your joint. You may not be able to figure this out for sure on your own, but you can be fairly certain that if you discover tender spots in the muscles near the affected joint(s) which, when massaged or treated with other methods (e.g., acupuncture, our pain patch), cause the joint pain to go away mostly or completely, you’re onto something. Check out the Pain Expert section of our site. One of my main purposes in creating this tool was to help people discover how a form of muscular strain (and the physiological changes that follow) known as a myofascial trigger point can cause pain that seems to be coming from somewhere else. Shoulder pain, for instance, is not usually due to something wrong with the shoulder joint itself. Usually it’s due to myofascial trigger points in nearby muscles. This is good news. It’s almost always much easier to irritated muscles than damaged or deteriorating joints.
Drink more water. If you’re not already drinking about half the number of pounds you weigh as ounces of water each day, start doing it, and pay attention to how your joints feel. A dehydrated body has less pliable tissue, less flexible muscles, less fluid joints. Water is such a basic intervention for pain, we often don’t take it seriously enough. I wrote an article on the many benefits of water that you can read here.
Lose weight. Most joints can be burdened by having to move more weight around. This is especially the case for joints lower in the body, like the lower spine, hips, knees, and ankles. When climbing stairs, the knee takes a burden of 3 to 5 times one’s body weight, which means extra weight translates into a significantly greater load for this joint. If you’re obese, you already know there are all sorts of other benefits to your losing weight, not the least of which is that you’ll feel better about yourself.
Consider MSM (methyl sulfonyl methane). MSM is an organic form of sulfur. It’s found in many of the foods we eat. In our bodies it plays a role in the formation of healthy hair, skin, nails and connective tissue. (It does a lot of other useful things, too.) If you’re going to try supplements for your joint pain, MSM is a good place to start because it’s very, very safe. The worst thing I’ve heard from patients is that it gives some of them smelly gas. It’s a good idea to start with a fairly low dose, like 500mg or so each day, and gradually increase the dose to about 1000mg (1g) for every 50 pounds of your body weight, twice a day. So, if you weigh 150 pounds, you’d take 3g twice a day. Since this is kind of a lot, it’s a good idea to get the stuff as a tub of powder, which makes it more economical. You can just mix it with water; it doesn’t taste bad. If you notice good results at a lower dose, you don’t need to take this much. It tends to take a couple weeks (up to a couple months even) to notice the full benefit of MSM. If you don’t feel like it’s helping after a couple months, there’s no reason to keep taking it.
Consider Glucosamine Sulfate. So, it’s only the most popular dietary supplement for joint pain. There must be a reason people use it, right? Well, about half my patients who have tried it reported a distinct improvement in their pain while on it. Theoretically, glucosamine contributes to the production of new cartilage in joints where it has worn away. Another theory is that it works by stimulating production of a substance called hyaluronic acid in the joints, which supports their lubrication and shock absorption, and also has anti-inflammatory properties. In any case, in order to get any benefit from it, one usually needs to take enough of it – at least 1500mg a day (usually this is 750mg twice a day or 500mg three times) – and stick with it for months. Since the studies on glucosamine have been primarily on the sulfate form, this is widely considered to be more effective than the cheaper hydrochloride form. If you stop taking it, expect your results to disappear eventually.
Consider Fish Oil. Another popular supplement, fish oil has gotten so much press for good reason. It supplies essential fats we get through very few dietary sources. These fats are deeply lubricating and anti-inflammatory. They help some cases of joint pain, and have numerous other benefits to the body. When patients tell me they take fish oil, but aren’t sure if it’s helping, I ask them how much they’re using, and invariably, it’s a very small amount. As a starting dose, I usually prescribe a teaspoon of liquid fish oil morning and night with some food in the stomach. This is equivalent to about 10 large softgels. If a patient doesn’t notice any benefit at this dose, I have them go up to as much as a tablespoon twice a day, which is equivalent to roughly 30 large softgels per day. Frequently, my patients tell me they’re taking one or two softgels a day. Liquid makes a lot more sense, both because it’s much more economical, and because it’s easier to take one quick swallow of oil than to try to down 5 to 15 pills at once.
Before you start with any new dietary supplement, talk to your doctor.
Dr. Peter Borten