The Athlete’s Guide to Joint Pain: How to Manage and Treat the Pain
Multiple studies have found that athletes are at a higher risk of experiencing joint pain and arthritis, depending on the type of workout they do. According to some statistics, the risks of arthritis increase by approximately 85% if you're an elite athlete. Yet joint pain doesn't have to be an inevitable outcome of your workout routine — after all, regular physical activity can actually help to prevent joint pain and reduce arthritis symptoms. Here's what you need to know about athlete joint pain and how to manage joint pain before and after your gym workout sessions.
What is Arthritis?
Arthritis affects approximately 1 in 4 Americans today. According to the U.S. CDC, there are more than 100 different clinical forms of arthritis, but they're all grouped together under a common umbrella: Pain, stiffness, and other concerning conditions that impact your joints and the tissues that surround your joints.
Some of the most common forms of arthritis are:
- Osteoarthritis: A degenerative condition that affects your entire joint
- Rheumatoid arthritis: When your immune system attacks your joints and joint tissues
- Psoriatic arthritis: An autoimmune inflammatory disease
Depending on the form of athlete joint pain you have, there are several underlying risk factors that may affect your chances of getting arthritis.
How Do You Get Arthritis?
Many of the arthritis risk factors that contribute to whether or not you get athlete joint pain are controllable and manageable. Common risk factors that may influence if and when you develop joint pain and other joint health problems include:
- Weight: Being overweight or obese, which puts more pressure and stress on your joints and wears down the connective tissues faster.
- Infections: Some forms of athlete joint pain are linked to your immune system and your immune system's so-called "over-response" to a problem. Bacteria and viral infections can trigger this, especially when infections directly invade your joints or connective tissues around your joints.
- Injuries: Researchers warn that common athletic injuries that affect your joints, such as injuries to your wrists, knees, or shoulders, can contribute to the development of joint pain and arthritis.
- Poor form: Impact and weight loading stress your joint cartilages and joint fluids, and when repeated, can contribute to the development of arthritis and athlete joint pain. Using the right technique and form can help ensure your joints are best supported, while poor form can put excessive and unnecessary stress on your joints.
Does Arthritis Ever Go Away?
Once you develop arthritis, there is no current cure for this disease. But if you are struggling with athlete joint pain, take heart. A combination of short-term and long-term treatments can help you to restore your joint mobility and health and reduce the symptoms of arthritis (sometimes to the point where you don't even notice any athlete joint pain — in fact, 8 out of 10 people with arthritis today can live a so-called "normal life" without joint pain.
How to Continue Training and Competing with Arthritis
Talk to your doctor about exercise while experiencing joint pain. Everyone's situation is different, and the specific type of arthritis and athlete joint pain you have will affect your approach to exercise. In general, focus on the following:
- Start slowly: If you have athlete joint pain, now is the time to reconsider your workout session length and intensity. Don't forget a proper warm-up and stretching, and try pulling back on your workout intensity by one or two notches.
- Avoid joint-specific exercises: Let's say you have tennis elbow. Now is not the time to sit at the biceps curl machine and hammer out 60 minutes of curls. Consider a full-body workout that helps you target your supporting muscles and both major and minor muscle groups rather than putting all the focus on a single joint or body part.
- Emphasize low-impact workouts: High-impact exercises can make your joint pain worse. If you're having an arthritis flare-up, shift to low-impact workouts. Examples include jogging on a treadmill instead of running on hard concrete or doing water aerobics instead of traditional bodyweight plyometrics.
Why Remaining Active Helps with Arthritis
Are your joints feeling achy? Are you experiencing an arthritis flare-up? You may be tempted to skip the gym in order to "rest" your joints and keep them immobile and still, yet that can actually make it worse.
However, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons warns that skipping your workouts to nurse your sore joints can actually make the situation worse. Staying active with arthritis brings numerous benefits that can improve your athlete joint pain, in part through:
- Improved circulation: You'll flush out toxins and mineral buildup and carry more oxygen-rich blood and nutrients to your joints and joint tissues to help them heal faster
- Better supporting strength: Exercise strengthens the tissues, muscles, and connective ligaments in and around your joints, helping them to better manage the stress and pressures of exercise and everyday movements
- Healthier weight: Regular exercise helps you drop the excess pounds and maintain a healthier weight, which reduces pressure on your joints
Treat Your Body to Therapeutic Therapies
If you're trying to figure out how to manage joint pain, three specific modalities can help you get to a pain-free place where you can engage in exercise without harming your joint health further.
Deep Tissue Massage
Deep tissue massage is one of the best ways to treat athlete joint pain, according to the Arthritis Foundation. During the massage, a registered massage therapist (RMT) gets deep into specific focus points in and around your joints, including your connective tissues. While you may feel tender after your appointment, it can help to reduce or even eliminate swelling, soreness, and stiffness in your joints.
Ice baths and other forms of cold therapy are very effective for athlete joint pain. For instance, ice baths can improve circulation, speed up the healing process, and reduce inflammation, all of which help to improve arthritis symptoms and overall joint health.
Yoga, tai chi, and other mindfulness-based practices from Chinese medicine are powerful for those with arthritis, reports the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. These movement styles help you to be more aware of your body, which in turn improves flexibility, mobility, and balance — all key risk factors and recovery factors when you have joint health concerns. In the long term, this can even help you to maximize your muscle gain and workout efficacy through your mind-muscle connection.
Supplements That Help Manage Arthritis Pain
Your diet is an oft-overlooked way to treat and manage joint pain. Yet the evidence is clear: A low-inflammatory diet — specifically the Mediterranean diet — that's rich in specific nutrients can help to directly alleviate joint pain and arthritis and also address arthritis' secondary risk factors like weight gain.
Supplements can help, too, especially if your current diet doesn't contain everything you need for improved joint lubrication, mobility, and healing.
Some of the most common forms of arthritis are inflammatory in nature, and even non-inflammatory types of arthritis (e.g., osteoarthritis) can also cause inflammation and make your athlete's joint pain worse. Specific anti-inflammatory medications may be recommended by your doctor, such as:
In terms of natural supplements, curcumin (an extract from turmeric) helped reduce arthritis joint pain and swelling. Other natural supplements that may reduce or prevent inflammation include:
Fish oil brings numerous benefits to those suffering from joint pain. It can directly reduce joint pain, while also lubricating your joints, re-building the fluid between your joint tissues, and reducing overall inflammation. However, not all fish oil supplements are the same — you need to look for a quality supplement that has the right balance of EPA and DHA fats, and little to no contaminants.
Glucosamine and Chondroitin
Both glucosamine and chondroitin are naturally occurring in your body and key for joint health. Both help support the development of the tissues between your joints, reducing the friction as your bones move and thereby reducing joint pain, swelling, and tenderness. They can even help to stop or slow the progression of your arthritis disease!
However, don't take each of these supplements alone. Most research has concluded that glucosamine and chondroitin are most effective when taken together. The most important thing: Choose glucosamine sulfate, as it may be less effective when taken as glucosamine hydrochloride.
The Right Supplements Can Help Improve Your Joint Health
Supplements are some of the best ways to improve joint health and reduce an athlete's joint pain, notes the Arthritis Foundation. However, the foundation warns that supplement purity and potency are key risk factors. Always go with a trusted source when you're trying to learn how to manage joint pain. At Tiger Fitness, you'll find an array of best-selling supplements to reduce joint inflammation and support stronger joints, including purified omega-3 fatty acid capsules, bone broth collagen, and turmeric extract.