By Shona Curley
As we age, pretty much everyone experiences the occasional bout of joint pain. For some, joint pain caused by arthritis can become severe enough to restrict daily activities and interfere with quality of life. To age as happily and healthily as possible, it’s worth making an effort to protect your joints the best you can and lessen inflammation.
Joint pain has many different possible root causes, including misalignment, muscular imbalance, systemic inflammation, autoimmune conditions, and various types of arthritic changes. However, exercising and staying strong can help support healthy joints, even as we age. Also, making sure your joints are well aligned, and the muscles around them are balanced helps. Certain supplements can be of benefit as well.
In this article, we’ll explore natural remedies that aid in joint protection, and hopefully, help keep you pain-free and active well past retirement.
Natural Remedies to Protect Your Joints
1. CBD Extracts
CBD, or cannabidiol, is extracted from the hemp plant. CBD is legal all over the United States, as it contains none of the psychoactive compounds found in hemp flowers (otherwise known as marijuana). CBD can be used topically in salves or creams or taken sublingually in extract form. Both types of CBD may help to lessen joint pain, primarily by lowering inflammation.
A 2016 study looked at transdermal (applied to the skin) CBD gel on rats and evaluated its efficacy in reducing inflammation and pain in arthritic joints. The authors suggested that a 6.2mg daily dose of CBD had long-term therapeutic effects, lowering inflammation and pain with no psychoactive response.
Another study, done in 2012 on rats, attempted to understand the mechanism by which CBD modulates pain and inflammation. Researchers indicated that CBD targets glycine receptors in the central nervous system, suppressing persistent inflammatory and neuropathic pain.
More studies are needed on humans to determine CBD’s efficacy and optimal dosage for diminishing joint pain. But in the meantime, trying CBD salve or cream on a painful joint, or taking CBD extract internally for more systemic joint pain, may be worth the investment. CBD preparations like oils and salves come in varying concentrations, and everyone responds a bit differently. Figuring out what works best for you may take some experimentation.
The authors of a 2018 study note that magnesium mediates bone and muscle metabolism as well as pain signaling. Their study evaluates whether magnesium intake affects knee pain and function in people with arthritis. They suggested that lower levels of magnesium intake, both in food and from supplements, were associated with worse knee pain and function, especially if combined with low fiber intake.
You can get a fair amount of magnesium and fiber from dietary sources such as almonds, cashews, and pumpkin seeds. Plus, magnesium supplements are also readily available. Magnesium helps to relax muscles, which may contribute to its ability to lessen pain. A word of caution, however: Too much magnesium in supplement form can cause loose stools.
3. GLA (Gamma-Linolenic Acid)
Gamma-linolenic acid, or GLA, is an omega-6 fatty acid found in various plant seed oils. Some people use these oils as supplements to support healthy joints and lessen arthritic and systemic pain, though more research is needed to determine their efficacy.
A 2011 review found that evening primrose seed oil, borage seed oil, and blackcurrant seed oil, all of which contain GLA, may improve joint pain and function in people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). People with RA, who took these oils over a six-month period, rated their pain 33 points lower on a scale of 1-100. In contrast, those who took a placebo rated their pain 19 points lower. However, the authors caution that evening primrose oil, in particular, can cause negative side effects such as headache, nausea, or diarrhea, and in rare cases of allergy, more severe complications.
Although more research is needed to understand better how herbs and supplements can help lessen joint pain naturally, before you turn to ibuprofen, it may be worth trying a few natural remedies to see if they work better for you. CBD extracts (in topical form or taken internally), magnesium (in foods or as a supplement), and various GLA supplements may help lower joint inflammation and pain.
Talk with your healthcare provider to figure out which supplements or salves seem like the best fit. Choose brands that don’t add any unhealthy chemicals and are third-party tested for purity. In combination with exercise, postural awareness, and a healthy diet, these supplements may keep your joints stable and fit well into old age.
- Cameron M, Gagnier JJ, Chrubasik S. Herbal therapy for treating rheumatoid arthritis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011 Feb 16;(2):CD002948. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD002948
- Hammell DC, Zhang LP, Ma F, et al. Transdermal cannabidiol reduces inflammation and pain-related behaviours in a rat model of arthritis. Eur J Pain. 2016;20(6):936-948. doi:10.1002/ejp.818
- Shmagel A, Onizuka N, Langsetmo L, Vo T, Foley R, Ensrud K, Valen P. Low magnesium intake is associated with increased knee pain in subjects with radiographic knee osteoarthritis: data from the Osteoarthritis Initiative. Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 2018 May;26(5):651-658. doi: 10.1016/j.joca.2018.02.002
- Xiong W, Cui T, Cheng K, Yang F, Chen SR, Willenbring D, Guan Y, Pan HL, Ren K, Xu Y, Zhang L. Cannabinoids suppress inflammatory and neuropathic pain by targeting α3 glycine receptors. J Exp Med. 2012 Jun 4;209(6):1121-34. doi: 10.1084/jem.20120242
Shona Curley lives and works in San Francisco. She is co-owner of the studio Hasti Pilates, and creator of the website www.redkitemeditations.com. Shona teaches meditation, bodywork and movement practices for healing Lyme disease, chronic illness and pain.