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With 23% of all adults in the U.S. suffering from arthritis, supplements for joint pain are the new go-to measure for those at risk and in pain. We take a look at the best supplements for joint pain and other natural remedies to promote an active and healthy lifestyle.
What is joint pain?
Joint pain is inflammation, pain, aching, stiffness or swelling at any location where two parts of the skeletal system are joined together.
Joint pain is not just something just older adults get. With a rise in gout cases, many young people have experienced the buildup of uric acid, causing needle like crystals in a joint, followed by sudden and severe pain. Back and knee pain are experienced by athletes.
Whether severe or mild, many people report enough joint pain to hinder normally pleasant activities. When do you see a doctor and get a prescription, and when do you treat the pain with lifestyle changes? We definitely recommend getting diagnosed by a qualified healthcare provider, even if you decide to treat a condition without medication.
Causes and Risk Factors of Joint Pain
This list from the Mayo Clinic is an extensive look at diseases and causes that put you “at risk” for joint pain.
- Adult Still’s disease
- Ankylosing spondylitis
- Avascular necrosis (death of bone tissue due to limited blood flow)
- Bone cancer
- Broken bone
- Bursitis (joint inflammation)
- Complex regional pain syndrome (chronic pain due to a dysfunctional nervous system)
- Gonococcal arthritis
- Gout (arthritis related to excess uric acid)
- Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
- Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (formerly known as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis)
- Lyme disease
- Osteoarthritis (disease causing the breakdown of joints and cartilage loss)
- Osteomyelitis (a bone infection)
- Paget’s disease of bone
- Polymyalgia rheumatica
- Psoriatic arthritis
- Reactive arthritis
- Rheumatic fever
- Rheumatoid arthritis (inflammatory joint disease)
- Sarcoidosis (collections of inflammatory cells in the body)
- Septic arthritis
What medication should I take for joint pain?
It’s common to look for an over-the-counter or prescription medication to find instant joint pain relief. Some of the first options people look to include:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs/NSAIDs (ibuprofen, naproxen sodium, aspirin, etc.)
- Cox-2 inhibitors (Celebrex)
- Acetaminophen for pain without swelling (Tylenol)
- Prescription opioids for severe, unresolved joint pain
- Muscle relaxants to reduce spasms
- Antidepressants or antiepileptic drugs, which dull pain receptors
There are a number of side effects associated with drugs for joint pain, though. For instance, regularly taking blood thinners like aspirin can increase your risk for dangerous bleeding. Even the National Arthritis Foundation recognizes that overuse of NSAIDs can cause gastrointestinal problems, dangerous bleeding, and issues with the heart and kidneys.
Tylenol has been connected with liver damage, while prescription opioids, antidepressants, and antiepileptics have side effect lists often longer than the benefits they claim. Opioids may also negatively interfere with your immune system over time.
Dietary supplements for joint pain, on the other hand, may help relieve joint pain without the resulting side effects. While using medications to treat this pain may be the only option in some situations, using supplements and dietary measures to improve joint function will be gentler on your body in the long-term.
9 Best Supplements for Joint Pain Relief
Because there are a ton of supplement companies out there trying to sell the “best” pill for joint pain, we waded through the gimmicks. After looking at the actual ingredients and their proven benefits, here are the joint health supplements that promote healthy, flexible, and hopefully painless joints.
1. Fish Oil
Fish oil supplements are taken for their omega-3 fatty acids — EPA and DHA (eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid) — which have anti-inflammatory effects. They can also be obtained by consuming oily fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, cod, and halibut. Still, many people elect to take a supplement to get concentrated, consistent benefits.
A strict analysis of several randomized trials found that the evidence of fish oil alleviating pain in arthritic patients was low. But a moderate amount of evidence pointed to a significant effect for patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. (1)
The minimum dose for observed general health effects is 250 mg of EPA and DHA combined.
3 grams, twice a day, is recommended as a supplement for joint pain to reduce inflammation and soreness.
2. Glucosamine Sulfate
Glucosamine sulfate is part of the natural makeup of your cartilage. It’s made from the amino acid glutamine. Taking sulfate supplements for joint pain could prevent the risk of joint cartilage degradation associated with arthritis.
Not just present in your body, this supplement is harvested most often from the shells of shellfish. There are actually two types of glucosamine used in most supplements: glucosamine hydrochloride and glucosamine sulfate.
An analysis of 19 clinical trials showed that glucosamine hydrochloride is “ineffective for pain reduction in patients with knee osteoarthritis.” However, another study focusing on glucosamine sulfate as a treatment for moderately severe arthritis pain in patients’ knees found that it produced better results than the standard acetaminophen treatment for pain. (2, 3)
After being administered for an extended period of time, glucosamine sulfate, combined with chondroitin sulfate (another natural chemical in our cartilage), has been shown to observably delay the progression of osteoarthritis in the knee. (4)
You should take 500 milligrams three times a day to supplement for joint pain. Glucosamine sulfate is best, while glucosamine hydrochloride seems to be ineffective. Take at meals for best results.
3. Chondroitin Sulfate
Frequently paired with glucosamine, this supplement is under scrutiny. Recent analysis might point to its efficacy being attributed to combinations in studies — not the result of this single ingredient.
1200 milligrams of chondroitin can be taken, split three times a day, with glucosamine sulfate and meals.
Collagen is the main protein found in the body that produces connective tissues that help our joints stay strong and healthy, even in old age.
If this important compound is present in smaller quantities than you need, the body may experience many diseases, injuries, and pain-producing conditions that interfere with day to day life. Collagen production slows after the age of 25. People of many ages can suffer from a deficiency that triggers required joint pain supplements.
10 grams of collagen peptides to supplement for joint pain and inflammation are recommended daily. Collagen is best if taken in an easily digestible powder in combination with a low-carb whey protein, because sugar increases inflammation.
5. Vitamin C
A standard 90 milligram intake for non-smoking adults will provide any benefits vitamin C has to offer as a supplement for joint pain. We do suggest getting your recommended daily allowance through your diet, not just supplementation.
6. Boswellia Serrata
Boswellia serrata is a compound from the resin from the Boswellia tree — commonly called frankincense. Traditional Chinese herbalism and Ayurvedic medicine have used this plant for centuries.
The active components, called boswellic acids, have been able to provide significant joint pain relief and attenuate symptoms for people with osteoarthritis. It even presented observable anti-inflammatory benefits in as little as 7 days in some cases, with maximum effects taking place after 3 months of taking supplements for joint pain. (17, 18, 19, 20)
One study even aimed to prove that boswellic acids in combination with MSM (methylsulfonylmethane, a natural pain reliever found in plants) could outperform glucosamine sulfate in the treatment of osteoarthritis. Specifically, they did side-by-side comparisons in knee arthritis.
They found that the preliminary data supports their treatment being effective and safe. BUT, the most exciting research might come out of another study that found a “synergistic effect” of combining boswellic acids and glucosamine. (21, 22)
This animal study is preclinical and in need of human trials to confirm, but they observed a significant anti-arthritic response that warrants more investigation.
Try starting at 800 milligrams three times a day. If you haven’t noticed a significant change in a matter of weeks, increase your dose to 1,500 milligrams, thrice a day.
Curcumin is the component of turmeric that provides its yellowish coloring. Sourced from a plant in the ginger family, it is often a staple in many curry dishes and has been used medicinally in India for thousands of years.
Though curcumin is a powerful antioxidant with strong anti-inflammatory properties, the actual amount in turmeric is pretty low. So, a more concentrated extract is needed to make a supplement for joint pain. (23, 24)
Couple that with curcumin’s poor bioavailability (meaning it’s not easily absorbed and utilized by the body when eating in food form), you need to look very carefully for the right supplement.
But it is definitely worth the search. There is high quality evidence proving that curcumin makes a notable difference in patients with inflammation, oxidative stress, pain, and even depression. (25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40)
To give your body the best shot at utilization, take 500 milligrams of curcumin with 20 mg of piperine (black pepper extract) three times a day. And if taken with some sort of fat or oil, the absorption rate goes even higher, since curcumin is fat-soluble.
8. Vitamin D
Another fat-soluble nutrient, these vitamins for joints can be obtained naturally from fish, eggs, dairy, and sunshine — or as an extract in pill form. Most Americans are actually in need of a little supplementation to achieve optimum levels. Plus, vitamin D is one factor in the process your body uses to metabolize calcium, which can strengthen joints when absorbed efficiently.
What’s the advantage to taking vitamin D supplements for joint pain? Well, in one study of women undergoing treatment for breast cancer, the group that received vitamin D supplementation “reported no disability from joint pain,” much better than those that received a placebo. (41)
According to Medical News Today, “Low levels of vitamin D can cause increased joint and muscle pain.” But they go on to say that research isn’t to the level it should be yet. There have been correlations noted in reviewing studies between people who developed rheumatoid arthritis and those that had vitamin D deficiencies. (42, 43)
One randomized, placebo-controlled trial found that vitamin D supplementation in patients with lupus seemed to improve inflammation levels. (44)
Even though causal relationships have yet to be clearly defined and researched, we definitely suggest getting more than the normal recommended daily allowance of 800 IU. Studies show optimum blood levels come from supplementing 1,000-2,000 IU a day to reach a goal of 4,000 IU total intake. Vitamin D supplements for joint pain should be taken with a source of fat or a meal to increase absorption.
9. Cissus Quadrangularis
Also known as “Devil’s Backbone,” this wide growing perennial from the grape family is said to have its roots in Ayurvedic medicine. This old remedy might aid in weight loss (taking stress from joints) and functionality in joints of the elderly or injured. (45, 46, 47)
Most notably, a pilot study in healthy men who experienced joint pain from excessive exercise found their joint pain was reduced by 31 percent after taking 3,200 mg of cissus quadrangularis daily.
However, no placebo control group was used in this study. We don’t discount the results, just ask for more thorough studies to follow.
When taking a supplement for joint pain, we suggest a 3,200 milligram dose of cissus quadrangularis daily. If you are not participating in athletics, you may also benefit from a lower dose.
What else can you do for healthy joints?
Although many doctors are ready to prescribe pills for joint pain relief, there are several natural, easy remedies for joint inflammation. Sometimes, the best joint supplements are tasty, too.
Eat an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Vast amounts of carbs and sugars in our diets today can lead to chronic inflammation that can last for years. There are many healthy foods that will protect your body from unnecessary pain and decreased mobility, like: (48, 49, 50)
- Deep-colored fruits and green leafy veggies
- Low carb vegetables, like broccoli and cauliflower
- Beets in raw or powdered form
- Healthy fats from oils and fish
- Nuts and dark chocolate
- Spices and peppers
- Green tea or red wine (in moderation)
Introduce Anti-Inflammatory Herbs and Spices
Besides turmeric, there are several other spice and herbal supplements for joint pain.
- Joint pain is inflammation, aching, or stiffness where two parts of the skeletal system join together.
- Many people are at risk for joint pain, no matter their age.
- There are many anti-inflammatory supplements for joint pain and stiffness with real, quality evidence.
- Foods can be great natural supplements for joint pain that easily incorporate into any lifestyle.