The 20-year-old’s Guide to Preventing Joint Pain

July 14, 2021

The 20-year-old’s Guide to Preventing Joint Pain

In this article:

  • Where does joint pain come from?
  • Lifestyle changes to manage and prevent joint pain
  • Best joint health supplements

Where does joint pain come from?

For young people joint pain can often be traced back to overuse injuries. For instance, in high school I developed tendonitis in my elbow from playing volleyball, and every time I play tennis or volleyball again, the pain comes back. These causes are easier to identify because they relate to specific injuries and often flare up when the same muscles are exhausted. Overuse injuries can also occur if you suddenly begin exercise after long periods of inactivity. In other cases, joint pain can appear seemingly out of nowhere.

Possible causes of joint pain early in life are:

  • Patellofemoral syndrome: Patellofemoral syndrome is essentially an imbalance in the muscles that support the knee joints, such as thigh muscles and tendons around the knee. Over time, this can alter how your knee joints align and eventually can cause inflammation, grinding, and pain around the knee.
  • Osteoarthritis: Unfortunately, osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease, does not only occur later in life. Athletes who have sustained repeated overuse injuries and those who are overweight or obese are at a higher risk of developing osteoarthritis. This wearing down of the joint cartilage can happen as early as their twenties and can cause joint pain, swelling, loss of flexibility, and stiffness. Osteoarthritis is much more common than rheumatoid arthritis, which is an autoimmune disease that can cause joint stiffness, pain, deformities, reduced range of motion, and "cracking" of the joints.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: Rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic inflammatory condition can also begin in your early twenties. Women are especially prone to RA. Compared to osteoarthritis, RA affects several areas of the body and often causes more swelling and inflammation in the hands, feet, wrists, elbows, knees, and ankles. In some cases, RA can cause bumps or nodules to form around the knees and elbows.

Women are more likely to develop osteoarthritis and RA than men and often experience worse joint pain. Your family history, pain levels, and ultimate diagnosis will influence your treatment plan, so it's always best to seek medical advice from a trusted family doctor. Certain foods can also trigger pain and inflammation, so keep a food diary to see if any irritating foods exist in your diet.

Lifestyle Changes to Manage and Prevent Joint Pain

Exercising might seem like the absolute last thing you want to do when struggling with joint pain. However, when done gently and gradually, it is the number one way to reduce or even prevent occurrences and manage joint pain for the long run. Here are some ways you can look out for yourself today to prepare for the years to come:

  • Warm up before exercise: Warm up to exercise as a whole, not just before workouts. Of course, you should do plenty of stretching pre-workout or before a game of tennis, but in order to prevent joint injury be sure to start off slow when embarking on new exercise routines. Build your exercises little by little every day to help strengthen your joints and avoid injury. Don't forget to cool down too! Try warmups that are gentle on the joints like walking and modified lunges.
  • Move throughout the day: WFH-ers, I know how difficult it can be to get up and get moving! However, sitting all day in roughly the same position is actually pretty taxing on the joints. Just like when we wake up feeling stiff after sleeping like a brick, remaining sedentary all day can cause joint stiffness and pain. Make it a point to get up and stretch every hour to boost circulation. Be playful with it! Your joints and your brain will thank you!
  • Avoid high-impact exercise: If you're already struggling with joint pain, it probably isn't the time to pick up jumping rope as a new hobby. Stay active with low-impact exercises such as yoga and pilates, swimming, biking, walking, and dynamic bodyweight exercises.
  • Quit smoking: Yet another way smoking can negatively affect health is by increasing inflammation throughout the body. With that said, quitting smoking is no easy feat. Here are some practical and powerful tips on how you can start your smoke-free journey.
  • Maintain a weight that supports joint health: Being over or underweight can affect the way your joints function. Extra weight adds extra stress on your knees and being underweight can cause patellofemoral syndrome due to muscle loss. Your doctor should be able to help determine the ideal weight for your joint health and develop a plan to get there.
  • Stay hydrated: Take note of the days and times your joint pain seems to flare up, then compare that with how much water you've had that day. Cartilage is primarily composed of water, so when we become dehydrated, our cartilage wears thin and causes pain.

Best Joint Health Supplements

High quality dietary supplements can round out your diet, improve joint function, and manage joint pain and soreness.

  • Vitamin D: Vitamin D is critical for your musculoskeletal health and helps to decrease inflammation throughout the body. Some studies have found that Vitamin D deficiency may be a risk factor for both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Although more studies on vitamin D and joint health are needed, Vitamin D3 supplements are great for general health and wellness, as about 42% of the US population is vitamin D deficient.
  • Collagen: Collagen is a critical building block of healthy joints. It's a fibrous structural protein that provides flexible yet sturdy joint support and structure to prevent injury. Starting in your mid-twenties, collagen production begins to slow. The result is flattened flimsy skin, muscles, and, you guessed it, cartilage. Studies conducted on athletes have shown that adding a powdered collagen supplement to your diet may reduce joint pain and increase flexibility. It can also be used to speed up recovery from injuries. Premium marine collagen is a highly bioavailable, eco-friendly, and versatile collagen supplement. We suggest starting here!
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3s have powerful anti-inflammatory properties and may be able to reduce swelling, pain, and inflammation in the joints. Preliminary studies also show fish oil may be an effective way to reduce rheumatoid arthritis pain. You can avoid the dreaded fish burps often paired with oil supplements by choosing a vegan omega-3 supplement instead.
  • Glucosamine: There are two types of glucosamine supplements: glucosamine hydrochloride and glucosamine sulfate, both of which are found within the cartilage. Of the two, glucosamine sulfate may be able to improve joint pain and prevent osteoarthritis when used long-term.
  • Chondroitin Sulfate: Similar to glucosamine, chondroitin is a component of cartilage. It is often paired with glucosamine to form glucosamine chondroitin supplements. If cartilage deterioration is the cause of your swollen and aching joints, these supplements may be able to provide pain relief.
  • Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM): MSM has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects that have been shown to help reduce joint swelling and pain. In one study conducted on those with osteoarthritis of the knee, participants who were given MSM daily showed a significant improvement in pain and joint swelling compared to the placebo. However, those who were given both glucosamine and MSM had the most significant improvements of all.
  • Turmeric (curcumin): Turmeric supplements are used widely to reduce joint pain and inflammation throughout the body. Instead of (or in addition to) whipping up a turmeric latte, try a turmeric supplement that contains concentrated curcumin. You may also be able to enhance the bioavailability of your supplement by taking it with a black pepper extract supplement. Turmeric is often paired with ginger to safely boost its anti-inflammatory effects.
  • Boswellia Serrata: Boswellia serrata, an extract taken from the Boswellia tree, is a great way to reduce joint pain and improve mobility (compared to the placebo) in people with osteoarthritis or for those who have undiagnosed joint pain. It has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine and has powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Boswellia is a great natural alternative to over-the-counter NSAIDs like ibuprofen, which come with their own laundry list of side effects.
  • S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAMe): SAMe is a molecule produced by the amino acid methionine. Though it has many functions, studies have found that it may be as effective at treating joint inflammation and repairing cartilage as some anti-inflammatory drugs.

Joint pain at any age can inhibit your mobility and quality of life. Whether you're just starting to notice joint pain or have been battling with it for years, consider talking to your doctor about what you can do today to improve your joint health for the future. It's never too early or too late!

Summary Points

  • Women are more likely to develop osteoarthritis and RA than men and often experience worse joint pain
  • When done gently and gradually, exercise is the number one way to reduce or even prevent occurrences and manage joint pain for the long run
  • Studies conducted on athletes have shown that adding a powdered collagen supplement to your diet may reduce joint pain and increase flexibility
  • Omega-3s have powerful anti-inflammatory properties and may be able to reduce swelling, pain, and inflammation in the joints
  • Boswellia serrata, an extract taken from the Boswellia tree, is a great way to reduce joint pain and improve mobility

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