Pain Relief for Achy Joints

Getting older certainly has its perks, but the reality is that aging can take its toll on many of us, despite our efforts to get out there and stay active—especially as the cold weather sets in.

No, it wasn’t an exaggeration when your mother/father/grandmother or someone else rubbed their knee/elbow/back, winced and muttered, “I can feel a storm coming on.”

Yes, there is evidence that shows a link between weather changes and chronic pain, especially joint pain and migraines. A 2007 Tufts University study showed that for every 10-degree drop in temperature, there was an incremental increase in arthritis pain. Low barometric pressure, low temperatures and precipitation can all increase pain. The theory is that these conditions increase swelling in the joint capsule, says the Arthritis Foundation.

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It all adds up to giving your body an opportunity to heal itself by reducing its creation of pain-driving substances and stimulating mitochondria, the “energy packs” that drive cellular function and repair.

Here are a few of the more common causes of joint pain and ways to ease your discomfort.

1. Injury
You slip and fall. Overdo it at the gym. Get rear-ended in your car. Sleep in the wrong position. Sit cramped on a plane for too many hours. Have poor posture. There are a zillion ways to injure your body, whether quite innocently and unknowingly from an everyday cause or overuse from repetitive motions over time.

That pain can lead to stiffness, sleep disturbances, a burning sensation in your muscles, achiness or acute pain running from mild to severe.

What to do to relieve muscle tension and soreness? Well, you can complain, call a doctor, take a pain reliever or rest—but don’t underestimate the power of massage in delivering a significant reduction in pain and soreness.

2. Osteoarthritis
This chronic condition of the joints is sometimes referred to as degenerative joint disease or “wear and tear” arthritis. It gets its name from the way it develops: cartilage, the cushion between our joints, breaks down over time and with use. What comes next? Pain, stiffness and swelling.

If your knees, hips, lower back and neck hurt, you’re in good company with the 27 million other Americans who feel the pain. Also affected could be the small joints in your fingers and the bases of your big toe and thumb.

Although physical activity might be the furthest thing from your mind when you’re feeling this way, it pays to be active. Studies show that simple exercise, like walking, can help manage or even reduce the pain from osteoarthritis. Weight management, stretching and anti-inflammatory medications can help, too, as can alternative approaches like massage, acupuncture and hydrotherapy.

3. Bursitis
We all have bursae—small sacs filled with fluid that cushion the bones, tendons and muscles near and around the joints of the shoulders, elbows and hips. When these become inflamed from repetitive movements, you’ve got bursitis, which can also affect the knees, heels and base of the big toe. Sometimes you can get bursitis from putting pressure on a joint for too long—like kneeling or leaning on your knees or elbows, for instance.

The pain from bursitis can make you feel achy or stiff and can hurt when you move or press on the joint, which might also appear swollen or red.

While you can’t prevent all types of bursitis, there are some things you can do to reduce the likelihood you’ll get it. If you do a lot of things that require kneeling, take stress off your knees by using a kneeling pad; warm up and stretch prior to strenuous activity; maintain a healthy weight to take stress off your joints and strengthen the muscles around them; use your knees, rather than your back, to lift heavy loads.

Bursitis usually improves on its own, but you can help it along by resting, icing and taking a pain reliever. More aggressive treatment, if necessary, might include physical therapy, prescription medications and steroid injections.

4. Gout
This inflammatory form of arthritis affects about 4 percent of American adults.

Many people think of gout as a “rich man’s disease,” a result of a lavish and expensive diet. That’s only a very small part of the picture. Most of the uric acid—actually about two-thirds of it—is produced naturally by your body. The rest comes from diet, in the form of purines, found in animal and plant foods. In fact, one of the great myths of gout is that it is caused by or can be controlled by diet. The reality of it is that gout is mainly a metabolic disease with genetic origins.

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Gout occurs when there’s too much uric acid in your body and your kidneys can’t flush it out. It builds in the bloodstream and forms needle-like crystals in a joint. Those crystals, in turn, bring on sudden and severe attacks of pain, tenderness, redness and swelling. It commonly affects the big toe but can also occur in your feet, ankles, knees, hands and wrists. It can make the joint feel like it’s on fire. The pain can get so severe that even the weight of a sheet can be impossible to tolerate.

Don’t think that you don’t have control over gout. You might not be able to change your genetics, but you can change factors like being overweight, which contributes to things like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high blood sugar—all linked to gout.

Experts say that although eating a low-purine diet won’t cure gout, it’s important to eat well and maintain a healthy weight. And, it’s wise to limit foods that increase uric acid levels, such as red meat, shellfish like shrimp and lobster, beer, liquor and high-fructose corn syrup.

To help ease the pain from acute attacks and prevent future ones, gout is usually treated with medication like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen and others), colchicine (a pain reliever used for gout pain) and corticosteroids (like prednisone).

5. Lyme Disease
Achy knees and Lyme disease often go together, and that’s because the bacteria transmitted by the tick bite can spread to your joints. This stiffness could also develop in your neck, hands and feet. Aside from joint pain, Lyme’s usual symptoms are fever, headache, fatigue and a skin rash characterized by a bulls-eye red circle that usually appears about seven days following the bite.

Left untreated, Lyme can also spread to the heart and nervous system.

Each year, approximately 30,000 people get bitten by a tick and develop Lyme disease. The first way to prevent it is to reduce your exposure by avoiding wooded and brush areas with high grass and leaf litter. Also, use insect and tick repellent, and inspect your body thoroughly for ticks after you’ve been outdoors. Putting your clothing in a hot dryer for 10 minutes can kill off any ticks that hitched a ride.

Caught early, Lyme can be successfully treated with a variety of oral, and sometimes, intravenous antibiotics or penicillin.

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