If you’ve ever crawled out of bed in the morning aching as if you’d played a mean game of rugby in your sleep, heard your knees creaking as you descended the stairs, required three ibuprofen before you could bend over to tie your shoes, and/or received an embroidered sampler with the words “My Back Hurts” for your birthday, then this article is for you.
Making some simple changes in your diet and daily activities — even the way you sit — coupled with taking a few key supplements a day can save a lot of wear and tear on your joints and ligaments as well as reduce your pain. Here’s a starting lineup of tips that help you where you hurt.
1. Sip a cup of green tea in the morning. Polyphenols called catechins in green tea prevent arthritis in mice and significantly reduce cartilage damage in humans.
2. When you sit, keep both feet on the ground. Crossing your legs cuts off your blood circulation and pulls your back out of alignment.
3. Switch over to spicy foods when your arthritis flares. Spices such as cayenne pepper, ginger, and turmeric contain compounds that reduce swelling and block a brain chemical that transmits pain signals. So head to the bookstore for some Mexican, Indian, and Thai cookbooks, or keep a bottle of hot sauce on your table at all times.
4. Empty out (or better yet, have someone else empty them for you) any cabinet or shelf below waist level. You’d be surprised how much unnecessary bending people do to get at those low places, says Howard Pecker, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon in Rahway, New Jersey. He gives this advice to all his patients with arthritis. They tell him it makes their lives much less painful. Just fill the empty cabinets with less-used items, like the turkey roaster that only comes out at Thanksgiving.
5. Use a wrist rest to keep your wrists straight, not to rest your wrists on. Resting your wrists on the pad when typing can compress soft tissues — such as tendons, nerves, and blood vessels — in your forearms, reducing blood flow to your wrists and fingers, says Peter W. Johnson, Ph.D., assistant professor of environmental health at the University of Washington in Seattle. This, in turn, can increase pressure in the carpal tunnel located inside your wrists and ultimately lead to nerve damage. Instead, use the pad only for support during typing breaks. Even then, most experts recommend resting the palms of your hands, rather than your wrists, on the pad to reduce the risk of injury, he says.
6. Keep a small rubber ball on your desk and in your car. Every time you get up to go to the bathroom (at work) or hit a red light (in the car) squeeze the ball 20 times on each hand. This helps strengthen your hands and improve flexibility.
7. Wash your dishes by hand and give the dishwasher the night off. The combination of warm, running water and light exercise, requiring complex movement of the wrist and hand, is an effective and low-cost way of rehabilitating the hand and wrist after injury or surgery, says B. Sonny Bal, M.D., assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Missouri School of Medicine in Columbia. It will also keep your wrists and hands flexible with good blood circulation if you have arthritis or other painful problems.
8. Prevent tennis elbow by icing your arm after play. The easiest way, says Scott Herron, M.D., who directs the sports medicine department at the Advanced Orthopaedic Surgery Center in Temecula, California, is to put water in a Styrofoam cup before you start playing, freeze it, then peel back the top of the cup to expose the ice. Now you can hold the ice against your arm without freezing your hand off. If, however, the tennis elbow arrives despite the ice, try this exercise: Bend your arm at 90 degrees, keeping your elbow at your side, palm facing up. Hold this pose for 5-10 seconds, then slowly lower your arm. Do this 10 times.
9. Enhance the range of motion in your wrist with this exercise. Slowly bend your wrist backward and forward, holding for a 5-second count in each position, suggests Dr. Herron. Do three sets — 10 times for each hand — twice a day.
10. Always bend from the knees, not the back, when lifting. Also, keep the weight you’re carrying close to your body, as if you were carrying a baby. This puts less strain on your back.
11. On long drives, pull over every hour, get out of the car, and walk around for five minutes, stretching like a cat. Your back will thank you later.
12. For back relief, get on your hands and knees (on a padded surface) and round your back like a scared cat. Hold for five seconds, then let your stomach relax and sag for five seconds. Do two sets of 10 each anytime you’ve been sitting for more than an hour.
13. Crunch your way through 20 modified sit-ups every morning. These strengthen the abdominal muscles while stretching and relaxing the back, says Dr. Herron. To do a modified sit-up, bend your knees or place your feet on a small stool or chair as you complete the crunch.
14. Serve up some pickled herring for breakfast or lunch. This fish is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, shown to reduce inflammation and alleviate pain from arthritis and other joint diseases.
15. Play a video game, read a book, or watch a movie when your joints are hurting. Researchers find that concentrating on what you’re doing, whether leisure activities or work, distracts you from your pain.
16. Wear tight-fitting gloves at night. They help reduce swelling and fluid accumulation in the night so your hands don’t ache when you wake up.
17. Take these super supplements:
Ginger extract twice a day. Researchers from the University of Miami found ginger significantly reduced knee pain in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee, as well as improved how the knee worked. Turns out ginger has some anti-inflammatory effects, just like ibuprofen.
Fish-oil capsules. A British study found that 86 percent of people with arthritis who took cod liver oil had far fewer enzymes that cause cartilage damage compared to those who got a placebo. Plus, they had far fewer pain-causing enzymes. Cod liver oil is a fish oil, so your basic fish-oil supplement will do fine.
Vitamin E containing pure alpha-tocopherols. A German study found taking 1,500 IU of vitamin E every day reduced pain and morning stiffness and improved grip strength in people with rheumatoid arthritis as well as prescription medication.
Glucosamine/chondroitin. Orthopedic surgeons agree that this supplement can provide long-term pain relief and slow the degeneration of cartilage. It has also been found that glucosamine and condroitin can actually repair damaged cartilage. After about a month you should be getting enough pain relief from the glucosamine to stop taking ibuprofen.
18. Quit smoking. Smoking reduces your circulation and that, according to a study in the medical journal Spine, increases your risk for back pain and slows healing.