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Sore knees (or other joints)

Some years ago I developed sore knees after a combination of aggravating factors. I had been spending a lot of time sitting at a computer on a chair with my legs curled back and my feet resting on a foot-rail. Then, with no physical preparation, I suddenly took up a couple of intense recreational pursuits that worked my knee joints very hard. It had never occurred to me that I might need to do any muscle stretching or make any concessions to ergonomics as I had never suffered from any kind of inflammation or tightness in my major joints.

It came as a huge shock when, all of a sudden, first one of my knees then the other became so sore that I could hardly walk, let alone enjoy more vigorous activities. The problem started out as aching kneecaps, then progressed to swelling, stiffness, soreness, strange clicking and general weirdness. I wondered if I would ever be able to walk comfortably again.

Here’s what I learned and the formula that helped me. Parts or all of the below might be helpful for anyone suffering from (especially non-degenerative) soreness in various joints, or even RSI (repetitive strain injury, or carpal tunnel syndrome).


Emergency relief
A quick course of anti-inflammatory drugs can be helpful, but they can be very bad for your digestive tract and heart in the long term. Take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Meloxicam, Vioxx, Celebrex, or Ibuprofen only to treat the initial inflammation. Ice packs at first and heat packs later are very helpful. Don't forget that the joints need plenty of good old-fashioned rest too.

Ergonomics
When sitting at a desk, keep your knees at a gentle angle with your feet in front of the chair. Don’t curl them underneath you. Sitting for most of the day is very unnatural, so exercise as you can and stretch (see below).
If riding a bicycle or off-road motorcycle, horse, or whatever, make sure that the distance between the seat/saddle and your feet  is appropriate to minimise the loading on your knee joints. A gentle knee angle is what you want. On a bicycle, your legs should be just shy of fully extended when your pedals are at their lowest point, and you should use an appropriate gear for the slope you are on. Add more or stiffer foam to a dirt bike seat, lower the footpegs, and improve the suspension. If skiing, learn about the correct stance and knee bend, and be aware of the strain that crouching will place on them. For all such sports, lose weight and your knees will benefit!

Stretching
I’ve found that the single most helpful factor for me has been muscle stretching, which I practice to this day to avoid knee discomfort. Tight muscles pull the tendons and cause them to track poorly through the knee joint, rubbing on rough spots and causing inflammation. Of the many stretching exercises that might assist knee pain, I have settled on two basic stretches that are quick and simple.

Believe it or not, simply touching your toes, or as close as you can get, works wonders. Keep your knees slightly bent, and try to touch your toes. Feel your hamstrings complain about it, and hold the position for at least ten seconds to push past muscular elasticity. Don’t bounce. Straighten up and do it again. The more and longer the better, but I find even a token stretch is of great benefit. My physiotherapist says 30 seconds is needed to properly stretch a muscle, but who has that sort of time these days!

To balance the hamstring stretch, pull on your quads by grasping your left foot with your left hand and tugging the foot up and back towards your shoulder. You’ll feel the quad complain and you’ll probably reach for something to lean against with the other hand so you don’t topple over. Hold the stretch for at least ten seconds, let go and repeat with the other foot and hand. Do several sets if possible. Better still, alternate these stretches with touching your toes.

Pre-empt trouble by habitually stretching. First thing in the morning when you get out of bed is ideal. Always stretch several times before exercising, even if going for a walk, but especially before something strenuous. Stretch in the middle of a workout when resting. Listen to your body. If you start to notice a slight discomfort in your joints, immediately stop what you are doing and stretch.

For other joints, try to follow the same principle of stretching the opposing muscles that control the joint.

Fitness
Strong muscles are able to control your tendons and joints more precisely. As joint health allows, work and build up opposing groups so that your muscle strength is increased and balanced.

Diet and supplements
Certain dietary factors will influence your joint performance. For a start, you should avoid eating anything that is inflammatory, especially foods that are known to be troublesome for you. Again, learn to listen to your body. If certain foods or drinks routinely make your guts or joints feel bad, be suspicious of them. Maybe try avoiding foods that are known to be problematic until you feel better. Fragments of the gliadin protein in gluten (wheat, barley, rye, and possibly oats) and the casein protein from dairy products are famously hard to digest, and become inflammatory if taken up by the bloodstream. I’ve read that too much oxalic acid from, say, lots of rhubarb and spinach, can exacerbate joint trouble too.

Most foods will be harmless if your gut lining is intact, so consider looking into the causes of a leaky gut. For starters, have a break from alcohol and sugar and take in some probiotics (good bacteria) in some form. Talk to your doctor about some time out from those ‘non steroidal anti-inflammatory’ drugs I mentioned earlier that you might be on, which includes aspirin by the way (use them in brief bursts for emergencies only if possible, but don't just drop medication on a whim if you've got other conditions that they might be assisting). Go on a bit of a detox or health kick for a while! It might hurt more at first as your chemical props are removed, but when your gut starts to heal, who knows what vicious cycle you might break?

Omega oils, such as those in flax seeds are naturally anti-inflammatory, healing to the gut, and are available pressed and ready to slurp from your health food shop. Vitamin E is good too. Vitamin C is a known natural anti-inflammatory, as is zinc. I keep these supplements in my arsenal ready for use when I feel the twinges setting in. The last two perform double duty for helping stave off colds and flu.

Colloidal trace mineralsMy chiropractor source mentioned at one stage that trace minerals are very important for joints and ligaments, but that with our modern farming practices depleting soils, we are not getting enough. He also said that this effect is poorly recognised. So I take a teaspoon of trace mineral extract from time to time, especially when I feel my knees starting to play up. You can buy trace minerals by the bottle in health food shops or online. The minerals are extracted and concentrated from certain organic soils that have been assayed and found to be rich in a wide variety of minerals. These extracts last me a long time because I don’t overdo them, like anything else. You can have too much of a good thing. Another potentially useful source of trace minerals are sea vegetables. We try to incorporate ground kelp into some spicy dishes now and then, and it just disappears into the background.

Manganese supplementsMy chiropractor also singled out manganese as particularly critical for joint health, so I pop a manganese supplement now and then too. That’s manganese, not magnesium!

Glucosamine supplements are sold everywhere now for joint health, especially for arthritis and so on. Your doctor might tell you that they don’t work, but many people, including myself, vouch for them. My GP said that glucosamine was one of the few natural products she believed in because it actually has the ability to help rebuild damaged cartilage, and is the only known substance that can do so. My father threw his celebrex away and gets by very nicely on glucosamine these days with barely a hint of arthritis. I take one every now and then as needed or as a preventative. When my knees were bad, I found that I did better with a minimal intake of glucosamine. Too much actually made my joints feel worse, though this was only a vague impression at the time.

I have also taken silica supplements from now and then, derived from horsetail herb. Silica is important for connective tissue, though I'm not sure if it was important in my recovery. Millet is apparently a helpful grain in this context.

As a matter of principle, I do not take mineral tablets at the same time together because they can sometimes be antagonistic. I don't know if zinc and manganese compete for absorption, but why risk it? I also prefer to take all of these things with a meal when the body is in digestion mode and any dosage spikes will be spread out by the volume of food.

I have also had some latent repetitive strain injury to my right hand from excessive mouse clicking, and I find that the natural anti-inflammatory regime here seems to help that condition also, though rest is critical too.

Supplements

A quick expedition to your health food shop with something in the order of a hundred bucks will supply you with goodies that will last ages, and might even save untold trips to doctors and specialists. The above regimen has worked a treat for me, and except for quickly stretching before my daily walk or bicycle ride, and the odd pill popped for good measure on no particular schedule, most of the time I give little thought to it all.

Considering the hassle and horror of immobility or joint replacement surgery, surely this kind of alternative is worth a try.

Addendum, 2011
Since writing the above I have also learned about the importance of liver and gut health to joints as well. I now find that when I eat too much sugar over a period of time (in any form including fruit), or push my liver and gut with medications or alcohol or pollutants, I tend to develop joint pain again. This occurs especially in knees, hip, elbows, and also neck-shoulder pain that is most noticeable and disruptive while lying in bed.

In the case of sugar, I presume it feeds the bad yeasts in my body (often referred to as 'candida' yeasts, though that is believed to be too narrow a category these days) which in turn provokes inflammation in the joints. And liver stress is notorious for joint pain.

So to get on top of the aches and pains, I take a strong milk thistle pill for a day or two, which prompts the liver to cleanse itself (often sold as the active ingredients, silymarin, etc). I drink plenty of water with one or two teaspoons of olive leaf extract per day for a few days. The olive leaf kills the rampant yeasts (but I don't take it for too long at a stretch or it affects too many helpful gut bacteria too, I suspect). I also lay off the sugar and chemicals as much as possible, maybe eat something with a probiotic effect such as my home-made kim chee or coconut kefir or whatever, perhaps take some straight coconut oil/milk which also helps combat nasty yeasts, and pop some of the joint-supporting supplements mentioned above.

This process has never failed to work. In fact, I can go from not being able to sleep because of aching joints to being completely free of discomfort the next night.

Recently I have also learned that niacinamide, otherwise known as nicotinamide, a form of niacin, is also known to combat yeast in the body and exhibit an anti-inflammatory effect. I've tried some of this too, though I think it was inclined to wind me up and make me antsy at night so I didn't persist with it, especially seeing as I get good results without it. Other people report a calming effect instead. It could be worth a try if you're struggling to get your joint pain under control.

Addendum, 2012
I'm not claiming any of the ideas on this page will do what surgery can't, but if you're thinking of having surgery for osteoarthritis of the knee, you might like to bear in mind that The New England Journal of Medicine has reported arthroscopies to be about as effective as a placebo. See this article.

Supplements

Addendum, 2013
If you do have some sort of rheumatic condition, you might also like to try curcumin, a natural component of the spice turmeric and reportedly a potent anti-inflammatory. The easiest way to take it is via an extract, in tablet form. You can use the powdered spice too, either in cooking or as a tea. See this page for information..

Finally
I make no claims as to the safety of the above. Even benign supplements can be harmful in large doses or if used instead of essential prescription medications. Assess this material for yourself and follow these instructions and those on the product labels at your own risk. I stress that I am not an expert. This page, like any other on the web where homespun formulations are offered in a spirit of goodwill, puts you, the reader, in the position of having to carefully consider and bear the attendant risks. Don't take that position lightly, and please consult your doctor before doing anything serious such as discontinuing medications or making major dietary changes.

 


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