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How to Take Care of Your Joints (So They Can Handle Many More Years of Adventures!)

runners experiencing joint pain

No matter your age, waking up with joint stiffness is no fun.

Warming up twice as long just because your joints are stiff is boring.

Cutting workouts short because your joints start aching is disappointing.

Missing out on adventures due to too much pain, that’s just miserable.

It’s also way too common.

And what do doctors push you towards? Surgery.

That’s no picnic, either. Surgery is painful, expensive, and risky.

Fortunately, there are other ways to alleviate your joint pain, as well as strengthen and protect your joints, so you can avoid all these problems in the future.

From diet and exercise to creams and supplements, I’ll explain your options and reveal which fixes might actually work for you!

Continue reading to see what three things you can do about these problems…

1. What To Put In Your Body (Foods and Supplements for Healthy Joints)

Never underestimate the healing powers of food. What you eat can actually ease your pain quite a bit. Incorporate these foods – and supplements – into your diet for less pain and better mobility.

Fatty fish (and the Omega-3 fats they contain)

Fatty fish, like salmon, is jam packed with Omega-3 fatty acids. Among numerous other benefits, these good fats can reduce swelling and discomfort in joints.

Aim for at least three servings per week.

Seafood not your style? No problem – you can still supplement with Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids.

If you don’t like fish, or simply don’t eat it often enough, supplementing is the best bet. You can get liquid fish oil or capsules. It’s up to you. The good stuff doesn’t taste “fishy.” Check out trusted, reliable brands like Carlson Labs, Barlean’s, NOW Foods, and BioTrust.

Note: Fish oil works great for dogs, too!

Fruits and berries (which are full of antioxidants)

All types of fruits and berries can help out thanks to their hearty helpings of antioxidants. (Citrus fruits are especially good for their high Vitamin C content.)

These antioxidants can fight off the free radicals which may be partially responsible for the damage leading up to any joint discomfort.

You can also supplement with vitamin C. The studies that suggest vitamin C and other antioxidants can help keep your joints healthy show that just taking 60 mg of vitamin C per day is enough (and that amount is included in most joint health supplements.)

Most Vitamin C tablets are a higher dose – 1000mg is common – and heavy doses of C have been shown to do lots of other good healthy things so it wouldn’t hurt to take these, even going up to 2-3 doses per day.

Gelatin

Unlike Jell-O, which seems so simple and fun, pure gelatin is a little less glamorous. They make it by boiling the skins, tendons, and ligaments of cows, pigs, and oxen. But since it contains animal protein and collagen (which makes up cartilage,) it is actually proven effective to treat cartilage loss and arthritis!

You can get the same nutrients in a homemade bone broth if that’s your thing, though most people buy boxes of Knox Gelatin.

Spice things up with turmeric

You’ve probably had turmeric somewhere, even if it’s not currently in your kitchen. It’s a key ingredient in many Asian dishes.

Turmeric contains a substance called curcumin, which is a natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. It helps keep inflammation under control, lessening your joint pain.

The easiest way to get the benefits is to season your food with turmeric powder. I really like it on rice and baked potatoes. It’s also good in soups and stew, omelets, chicken breasts, and veggie stir frys.

You might not be able to find the spice locally, but it’s easily found online at both Amazon.com and LuckyVitamin.com. The price ranges from $8-16 per pound.

Amazon.com has Jiva Organics turmeric powder for about $14 per pound. It’s organic and comes in a nice plastic container.

LuckyVitamin.com carries Frontier Natural Products turmeric powder for $15 per pound and Starwest Botanicals turmeric powder for only $8 per pound. Both are certified organic.

Use it every day for best results.

(Pro tip: There’s a compound in black pepper called piperine which aids absorption of the curcumin. So, whatever you season with turmeric, you should also season with black pepper!)

Glucosamine and Chondroitin

The most popular duo, you have likely heard about glucosamine and chondroitin by now.

Glucosamine builds and maintains joint cartilage, so it can help counteract some of the wear and tear on your joints you’re facing each day. Chondroitin serves essentially the same purpose. Both are safe, natural, and effective. Studies show positive results from taking 1500mg of glucosamine sulfate and 1200mg of chondroitin sulfate.

The most important thing is that it must be taken consistently for best results. The best way to do that is with a daily supplement.

By far, the most popular choice is Osteo Bi-Flex.

It contains glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM, plus Omega-3 fish oil and vitamins C and D3. A 2-month supply of Osteo Bi-Flex Triple Strength is only $27.95 at Amazon.com.

There’s also a drink called Supple.

Instead of gigantic pills, Supple comes in liquid and powder form, which some people like myself prefer. Their big claim is that they have the best quality ingredients available.

I was able to get confirmation from a food scientist friend of mine that Supple’s ingredients are indeed the quality stuff you want. Plus, it worked for my mom. The downside is that it’s the most expensive one I’ve seen – it ends up costing nearly $60 per month for the powder.

Strontium

Strontium is an alkaline earth metal I’d never heard of until I found a supplement named Stron-Bone.

Apparently it’s been used for many years in the field of medicine and thought to have potential for treating osteoporosis – like an anabolic steroid for bones. New research suggests it could also boost the formation of collagen and cartilage in joints, which would make it a useful for fixing joint pain!

If the more traditional methods aren’t working for you, consider Stron-Bone.

The good news as far as supplements are concerned, is that one of them will probably work for you! The bad news, it’s hard to predict which one. The worse news, some of them require you to take them consistently for 3+ months before you begin to notice the relief. (Not only nerve racking, but expensive!)

2. What To Put On Your Body

While getting your diet sorted out is a smart move, sometimes you have to go directly to the source of the pain and act there. Here’s how you can do that.

Topical Creams and Gels

You’ve probably tried almost every cream out there. Ben Gay, Icy Hot, Salonpas, to name a few. One might work, one might not, but regardless, they are all pain relief creams and don’t do much else.

However…

There are different types of creams – anti-inflammatory creams.

Certain creams, such as Topricin (my personal favorite,) don’t just mask pain. They alleviate the condition that’s causing the pain. For a lot of athletes, these are a much better solution.

Rather than pain killers, they contain herbs like Arnica montana and Aesculus hippocastanum that promote healing. The scientific research is mixed, but my own results have been very promising!

It does cost more, but I highly recommend Topricin. Try out a 2oz tube, applying before and after workouts, to see how it goes.

It’s really something you have to try and see for yourself. Fortunately, the relief is something you’ll notice the first day – instant gratification!

Support Braces and Tape

You can get a brace for virtually any joint – elbow, wrist, knee, and ankle braces are common. It’s a tried and true solution that’s reliable and provides instant relief.

For just a one-time fee you get something you can use for a long time (years.)

Wearing a knee brace has been a huge help for me.

I wear a DonJoy knee brace. They make the best braces I’ve ever tried on, and they seem to have something for any injury or condition.

If you’re shopping, check out their official online store at BetterBraces.com. (Endurance athletes will appreciate their collection of products for runners.)

The only downside is that braces can be bulky. There are some sleek ones, but still, you know you’re wearing a brace. In the summer, that means you’ll probably be extra hot and sweaty.

My DonJoy Comfort Knee brace is pretty small and simple, but still not ideal for long bike rides.

That’s where kinesiology tape comes in.

From a distance, this stuff looks like basic athletic tape. But once you use it, you know it’s special!

When applied to your joints, the tape provides support, like a brace does, but you can’t even tell it’s there!

I’ve had great success with both KT Tape and RockTape.

At $10-20 per roll, it’s cheaper than a brace upfront, but more expensive in the long run.

My best solution? Get both, and wear the brace as much as possible; use tape when the situation demands.

3. What To Do With Your Body (Exercise, Duh!)

Physical exercise is very good for so many reasons. Yes, it even improves your joint health!

For one thing, sitting still is bad.

The less you move, the more your joints will stiffen up. People who sit still have a higher risk for joint pain (among other things.)

If you sit for your work day, be sure to get up and move around frequently. (Use an activity monitor if you need reminders.)

Aerobic exercise can reduce joint swelling.

There is some research suggesting aerobic exercise can reduce joint swelling. That’s good news for endurance athletes.

Running is a double-edge sword in this regard, due to the high impact, but other low impact cardio is great: xc skiing, cycling, and swimming are excellent activities.

Stretch it out.

Short, tight muscles put extra pressure on your joints, leading to more wear and tear. Strive for long, supple muscles, which can be achieved through yoga and stretching.

Seriously, this hatha yoga workout from Tamal Dodge is incredible if you want to stay limber.

Build muscle.

Strong muscles will take some of the workload off of your joints. Resistance training not only builds muscle, it helps keep surrounding ligaments strong, too.

Overall, the best thing I did to strengthen my lower body after injury woes was squatting. Done properly, it’s safe and effective.

Don’t have a squat rack nearby? Do pistol squats.

Lunges, reverse lunges, and lateral lunges were excellent, too. You want your legs to be strong in any direction.

*Exercise instructions can be found here.

Lose weight.

One welcome side benefit of exercise is weight loss. Losing weight is good for your joints – the lighter you are, the less impact on your joints.

Staying at a healthy weight year-round is probably the nicest thing you could do for your joints. Consider a proper eating plan and rethink your diet if you’re carrying a few too many pounds.

Exercise caution

Last but not least, exercise caution.

What I mean is, be cautious when it comes to your training. For example, if your running form is bad, don’t go run a marathon. You’ll damage your joints with each stride, possibly doing permanent damage. If you don’t know how to squat, invest in the proper training and guidance.

Runners – avoid concrete and hard surfaces; when possible, run on dirt instead.

Everyone – cross train to avoid overuse injuries.

 

How do I do it?

For me, I can get by with:

  • A varying exercise regimen (with sports training, resistance training, and yoga)
  • Nutritious diet and fish oil supplements
  • Anti-inflammatory cream before/after certain workouts
  • Knee braces and tape to save me when I’m on the verge of overdoing it
  • Chiropractor visits (because you can’t fix everything yourself)

 

Joint pain is treatable, but the problem is, only certain things work in certain situations. Which means you have to try everything, until you find something that works.

Diet and exercise are best. But if you have constant pain that won’t go away, get on those supplements! Personally I’d try Supple since 1) you drink it rather than taking pills, and 2) it worked for my mom so I figure that helps my chances for some biological reason. For most people though, I’d suggest Osteo Bi-Flex first since it’s cheaper.

 

Any more questions or want to share your own success story? Please post in the comments below!

Photo credit: Ed Uthman

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2 Comments
  1. Hi Coach,
    Just a note to say thank you for the terrific article and for recommending Topricin to help others. Glad to know it is a part of your “gym bag!”
    Have a great weekend,
    Patti

  2. Thanks for stopping by Patti!

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coach levi
Hi, I'm Coach Levi. I'm a USA Cycling Certified Level 3 Coach as well as Level 1 Certified with Precision Nutrition. Want to feel better, ride faster, and look great? Let's work together!

usa cycling certified coach


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Coach Levi is my favorite child and favorite cycling coach. I'd choose him over Christoper McCarmikael even. Did I mention that Levi can coach you to a healthier lifestyle where you look and feel your best?
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Hometown, PA