“My joints hurt…” is one of the most common and disabling concerns I hear from my patients. Pain with every step or just getting out of a chair is certainly demotivating when it comes to being more active. Unfortunately, after too many years of not getting proper care and support, the joints start making their complaint known with pain. In effect, the joints are saying, “We’re important, you can’t move without us, and we are sick of you not taking care of us!”
It’s not that we don’t care about our joints. It’s just that when they are doing their job and not in pain, we tend to forget about them…. until there is a problem. Then, once inflammation and joint damage has already occurred, they start sending a “pain message” to the brain that it’s time for some attention. And although modern medicine has some treatment strategies, the treatments are far from ideal. Medical treatments should be used only if absolutely needed, because of major problems associated with both the medical approach and the surgical approach. I think you’ll agree, these approaches are “problem treatments”.
Problem Treatment #1: Medications – NSAIDS
Medications known as NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), such as ibuprofen (Advil), naproxen (Naprosyn), celecoxib (Celebrex), aspirin, and others, can be an effective strategy for pain relief and reduction in inflammation. But, buyer beware…
NSAlDs work to reduce inflammation by blocking hormone-like substances called prostaglandins. When prostaglandins are reduced with NSAIDs, pain and inflammation are reduced, but other body systems are negatively affected.
NSAIDs can cause stomach upset, diarrhea, ulcers, and bleeding. All NSAIDS have this effect, including aspirin. Other serious effects include kidney damage, heart attack, and stroke. Dr. James Fries, at Stanford University of Medicine, estimated 76,000 Americans are hospitalized annually for intestinal bleeding due to NSAIDs. The New England journal of Medicine reported 30% of NSAID users develop stomach ulcers. So although NSAIDs relieve pain, scientists question the use of NSAIDS for osteoarthritis because of their serious and common side effects.
Research shows those taking more than 1200 mg per day of ibuprofen (6 over the counter tablets) have an average increased risk of stroke of 80%. Danish researchers found the risk of a second heart attack in people with previous heart attack was 29-62% HIGHER immediately after taking NSAIDS. Even worse, risk further increased over time. Note: Aspirin, which is natural in origin, does not increase the risk of heart attack or ischemic stroke, but does increase the risk of serious ulcers and bleeding.
Problem Treatment #2: Joint Replacement
We probably all know someone who has had a joint replaced. The surgery can be life giving to those who have total joint destruction. However, this is a last resort. Remember, any surgery has potential complications such as of infection, bleeding, or chronic pain. And joint replacement surgery is considered temporary. Artificial hip joints can last 10-20 years, especially if the patient is normal weight. But remember, surgery is only one joint at a time. The disease process is generalized. So, if you can protect all your joints in advance, it is far preferred to getting several joints replaced one by one.
I’m sure we agree, protecting our joints in the first place is better than prescriptions or surgery… So, consider these 3 proven strategies for protecting your joints. And know for certain that…
Everyone can support and improve their joint health with 3 simple non-medical strategies.
Joint Strategy #1: Lose Any Excess Weight!
My patients with advanced osteoarthritis frequently tell me that their orthopedic surgeon has insisted they lose significant weight before considering surgery for 3 reasons:
- Weight loss is the best way to AVOID the need for knee or hip replacement. Many times weight loss improves pain to the point that surgery can be delayed or becomes unnecessary.Research shows that simply losing 10% of body weight lowers hip and knee pain by 50%.
- Each 1 pound of weight loss lowers pressure on the knees by 4 pounds! The smaller surface area at the knees means a little weight loss has a tremendous impact on knee discomfort.
- Losing weight reduces inflammation, working like a medication to lower pain and inflammation! Excess body fat produces inflammatory proteins.
- Surgical complications are lower in those of normal weight. Fewer blood clots, fewer infections, and faster recoveries occur when excess weight is lost before the operation.
- Artificial joints last longer if the patient is normal weight, prolonging the time between surgeries.
Joint Strategy #2: Maintain Activity!
Although it is tempting to sit around when your joints hurt, it is crucial to stay active. Research confirms that keeping the joints mobile, rather than letting stiffness set in, actually reduces pain. Simple range of motion exercises are something everyone can do. It may be in the form of a water class for arthritis at a local YMCA. Or, have a physical therapist instruct on home exercises to keep full range of motion of painful joints, while maintaining muscle strength. If symptoms are mild, just keep walking enough to maintain activity and flexibility and to help avoid any further weight gain.
Joint Strategy #3: Supplement Wisely!
Prior to using medications like aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen, which all have side effects, consider supplements that work to reduce joint pain and support joint health. Glucosamine, chondroitin, and hyaluronic acid are popular supplements for joints. Glucosamine, which naturally occurs in the body, plays a key role in cartilage, the connective tissue that cushions our joints. As cartilage is lost with age or injury, osteoarthritis is the result.
Excess body weight is a strong risk factor for osteoarthritis due to excess wear on joints and increased inflammation that occurs with weight gain. Scientists speculate that a decrease in cartilage also results from the body not making or absorbing enough glucosamine. Because cartilage works as a lubricant, this loss causes friction and pain.
In general, research suggests glucosamine provides several benefits including pain reduction, improved function and mobility, and slowed progression or even prevention of further joint destruction. A study by the National Institute of Health involving over 1500 patients showed that 79% of patients with moderate to severe pain had significantly decreased knee pain when taking glucosamine and chondroitin in combination. Patients experiencing mild knee pain were not affected.
Chondroitin is another supplement thought to be effective in treating osteoarthritis. Chondroitin is another major component of cartilage. One MRI study showed a slowing of joint damage within 6 months of taking chondroitin. Like glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate stimulates the production of cartilage and works to maintain flexibility in the joints. Glucosamine alone or in combination with chondroitin sulfate is becoming more recognized as a treatment for osteoarthritis.
Hyaluronic acid (HA) is an essential, natural component of cartilage and joint fluids that cushion and lubricate joints. HA is often injected by physicians directly into joints to provide pain relief. HA has been used as a supplement in doses of up to 200 mg per day.
Supplement Recommendations: For those with significant joint pain from osteoarthritis, I recommend you consider a professional quality supplement containing 1500 mg glucosamine sulfate, 1200 mg chondroitin sulfate, and, as an option, hyaluronic acid. I offer GCH Joint Formula at our offices and on our website at taguenutritionstore.com. However, other brands are available. Our dosage is 3 tablets daily, taken together or in divided doses. Benefits from glucosamine are typically noted in 6-12 weeks.
If you have been told you have osteoarthritis, or if your knees and hips hurt with activity, start caring for your joints immediately. Joints are forgiving if you start early. But once all cartilage is destroyed, surgery may be the only option for that particular joint. But remember, you have other joints that still need TLC!
Lose weight, stay active, and supplement wisely!
For Optimum Health,
Rick Tague, M.D., M.P.H.
Note: Always buy reputable brands of supplements. Dr. Altman, professor of rheumatology at the University of California, Los Angeles, tested 10 different glucosamine products with a group of colleagues from Canada. Four products had no glucosamine and another four had much less than stated on the label. 80% of the products tested would not have been effective due to low amounts of active ingredients. Our GCH Joint Formula manufacturer maintains Good Manufacturing Practice standards as well as routine testing of raw materials for assurance of potency and purity. Always look for the GMP stamp on your supplement labels.