It’s quite possible one of the most common complaints I hear from runners, other than sore muscles and fatigue, is connected to joint pain of some sort. Runners Knee, a term coined for patellofemoral pain syndrome displaying as a dull pain behind/around the kneecap, is the most common issue suffered by runners. But there are plenty of other areas where things go awry resulting in knee pain, hip pain, ankle/foot pain, back pain and more.
Beyond running ailments, some runners suffer from arthritis of varying degrees and types – arthritis is actually defined simplistically as “the inflammation of one or more joints, usually accompanied by pain and stiffness”. While the following guidelines apply to any runner wishing to protect and build healthier joints, certainly anyone suffering from arthritis might find relief by applying these 3 strategies.
1. Eat more omega-3’s, anthocyanins, curcumin, sulfur, and vitamin K.
These nutrients have all been associated with reduced inflammation in the joints as the building of stronger, healthier joints. Here’s where you’ll find these nutrients:
- Fatty fish such as salmon, as well as omega-3 rich seeds including flax, chia and hemp are all great sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s have been used to treat joint pain associated with several inflammatory conditions. This 2008 meta-analysis suggests omega 3s are a good adjunctive treatment for joint pain. And this 2011 study combined omega-3 fatty acids with lemon verbena acted as a complementary and alternative treatment for improving joint status in subjects with joint discomfort.
- Tart cherry juice, as well as berries berries such as blueberries, strawberries and blackberries are all great sources of anthocyanins. Tart cherries in particular have a long history as a treatment for gout and joint pain. The acanthocyanin pigments and related bioflavonoids found in tart cherries and other red fruits “scavenge free radicals, modulate cytokines, reduce DNA degradation, decrease capillary permeability, inhibit cyclooxygenase, and strengthen biological membranes” – basically all things that help to decrease pain and build stronger, healthier joints! Plus tart cherry juice has been shown (such as in this 2015 pubmed article) to provide pain relief that is at least as good as conventional treatments, with no adverse effects.
- Turmeric (and ginger). These two spices are from the same family, both highly anti-inflammatory. This 2014 study resulted in much reduced knee pain after 8 weeks of use and summarized that Theracurmin (a brand of optimized curcumin) shows modest potential for the treatment of human knee osteoarthritis. And this 2013 pubmed article summarizes how curcumin has been shown to present great potential for treating osteoarthritis. Lastly, this 2014 study showed an improvement of joint pain that was clinically relevant in patients treated with a combination of turmeric, bromelain and devils claw for both acute and chronic osteoarthritis pain, and suggested it to be a valuable and safe alternative to NSAIDs in patients suffering from degenerative joint diseases.
- Asparagus, eggs, broccoli, cabbage, garlic and onions are all good sources of sulfur, which is needed for the repair and rebuilding of bone, cartilage, and connective tissue – plus it aids in the absorption of calcium. This 2015 pilot study showed that methylsulfonylmethane (a sulfur-based nutritional supplement) which has already been shown through several clinical trials to be effective in reducing pain associated with osteoarthritis and to exhibit anti-inflammatory properties, to reduce muscle and joint pain. In fact, the study was completed on 22 runners who’d just completed the Portland Half Marathon in 2014 and showed that 3 weeks of supplementation reduced post-exercise muscle and joint pain at clinically significant levels compared to the placebo.
- Dark leafy greens, such as kale, spinach, Swiss chard, arugula and watercress are all rich sources of vitamin K. Interestingly, as shown in this 2013 study, those suffering from a subclinical vitamin K deficiency experienced an increased risk of knee osteoarthritis. The study also suggested vitamin K has therapeutic potential for osteoarthritis.
2. Avoid these inflammatory foods.
- Nightshades (bell peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, white potatoes, goji berries). It may be to your benefit, if you suffer from joint pain, to try an elimination of nightshades. These foods contain a substance called solanine which is inflammatory to some people, particularly those suffering from arthritis. The solanine interferes with enzymes in the muscles of people sensitive to nightshades, causing pain and discomfort.
- Sugar. Too much sugar in any form causes inflammation (it triggers the release of inflammatory messengers called cytokines, resulting in pain). This is the place to start when it comes to asking yourself what might need to be cut out first!
- Processed oils. Oils such as corn, soy, vegetable, canola, sunflower and safflower are all highly processed, rendering them oxidized. Oxidized fats destroy healthy cells, causing pain and inflammation. Choose virgin (cold-pressed) oils of highest quality instead.
3. Try these supplements.
- Omega 3’s – you might try a flaxseed oil, which has been found to ease pain in arthritic joints, or (better studied) an algae (vegan) or fish oil supplement, such as by Nordic Naturals, in a dose of 2000-5000 mg of EPA/DHA.
- Curcumin – look for optimized or bioavailable curcumin, such as Longvida® Optimized Curcumin Extract, which is used in many popular natural brands such as AOR. My latest find is Nordic Naturals Omega Curcumin combo, which utilizes 400mg Longvida curcumin and 1000mg omega-3s per serving. This is in fact the supplement I reached for during my 24-hour run when I encountered pain at the 3-hour mark!
- BiovaFlex® natural egg membrane that relieves pain, decreases inflammation and helps to nourish and repair damaged joint tissue – such as the pain relief line by Genuine Health: Fast Joint Care+, Fast Pain Relief+, or Fast Arthritis Pain Relief+. All three use BiovaFlex as their main ingredient – the Fast Pain Relief+ was the other supplement I reached for during my 24-hour run.
- Glucosamine and chondroitin – substances naturally found in healthy cartilage – such as Glucosamine & Chondroitin by AOR. Research suggests that glucosamine sulfate appears to relieve pain, improve joint mobility and slow osteoarthritis-related damage to the joints.
Joint pain is not something we want to have to deal with as we train hard and run our goal races. Utilizing these strategies should help you to avoid encountering it in the first place – and help mitigate pain if you do happen upon joint problems at any point.
To deliciously healthy food and stronger faster running… Cheers,
Sarah J Cuff, RHN