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The Cost of Joint Pain
How to improve it
We’ve all experienced some level of joint pain from time to time. Some acute joint pain may be due to extreme physical exertion, while other joint pain may be more chronic. There are different degrees of joint pain such as sharp, dull, throbbing, aching and burning. Some joint pain can be intermittent and some constant. Posture, sedentary lifestyle, strenuous activities, injury, stress, seasons, weather, time of day and allergens are some examples of what can trigger joint pain. Depending on the type, source and degree of the pain, it can significantly limit our physical ability to move, work and spend quality time with family and friends. Pain can even diminish our appetite, cause sleeplessness and could even lead to long-term disability.
According to Johns Hopkins University in the Journal of Pain, chronic pain costs the U.S. as much as $635 billion per year. This exceeds the total cost of cancer, heart disease and diabetes.(1) According to data from the 2008 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, people with moderate pain had $4,516 in additional healthcare expenses than someone without pain. Those with severe pain had an additional $3,210 more in healthcare expenses than those with moderate pain. The results of this survey went on to identify people with joint pain had $4,048 in extra annual healthcare expenses than those who didn’t have joint pain, and people with arthritis pain had an additional $5,838 in additional annual healthcare expenses.
Nutritional supplements may be an option to research to see if they can help reduce the costs associated with joint pain. A 2016 multinational study called the MOVES trial found the combination of glucosamine and chondroitin as effective at relieving knee osteoarthritis pain and swelling as a commonly prescribed nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) celecoxib branded as Celebrex.(2) The glucosamine and chondroitin combination does take a week or two to take effect, while the medication takes immediate effect, but the supplements were found to relieve the pain and swelling without the harmful side effects of the medication.
Another supplement known as methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) has shown to benefit joint health in multiple short-term studies. Studies have found MSM significantly reduces inflammation. MSM has been shown to prevent the breakdown of protective joint cartilage.(3) Another study found 100 people 50 years or older that took 1,200 mg of MSM per day for 12 weeks decreased pain, stiffness and swelling in the joints, compared to a placebo.(4)
Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil help stimulate the body to upregulate chemicals that assist the body in controlling inflammation and downregulate inflammatory chemicals. One anti-inflammatory chemical in particular is peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPAR). The liver releases PPAR which has been shown to decrease glucose and insulin levels as well as cholesterol and inflammation. Since Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to stimulate PPAR, it produces a systemic effect of a wide variety of anti-inflammatory results. Daily supplementation with omega-3 results has been clinically proven to reduce morning stiffness and the number of tender joints and may reduce the need for pain medications.(5)
In addition to supplements, there are many lifestyle choices we can make to enhance joint health. Daily and gentle low-impact physical activity such as walking and stretching can assist the body in moving excessive synovial fluid out of the joints which causes joint swelling and stiffness. Choosing joint-healthy foods rich in calcium, magnesium and potassium such as bok choy, kale and collard greens can help provide your body with what it needs to keep your bones healthy and strong. Foods to enhance the flexibility of joints include omega-3 fatty fish, nuts and seeds.
If you’re experiencing pain it’s important to speak with your doctor. You can also speak to your doctor about other pain relief options in addition to lifestyle options such as chiropractic, physical therapy, massage and even acupuncture. It’s important to try and relieve joint pain and stiffness and improve strength and mobility.
About Paul Bernitt, DHH.
Paul is a passionate advocate for early detection, prevention, and wellness, and brings extensive healthcare education, experience, and leadership to his role as the Director of the TriVita Clinic of Integrative Medicine.
1. Darrell J. Gaskin, Patrick Richard. The Economic Costs of Pain in the United States. The Journal of Pain, 2012; 13 (8): 715 DOI: 10.1016/j.jpain.2012.03.009