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GoodRx Guide

Joint Health

Sarah Pozniak, MDKatie E. Golden, MD
Written by Sarah Pozniak, MD | Reviewed by Katie E. Golden, MD
Published on August 2, 2023

What are joints?

Joints are areas in the body where two or more bones meet. Joints are made up of several different types of connective tissue. This tissue brings the bones together and allows for movement. 

Some joints are large — like the knee and shoulder joints — and move a lot. Other joints — like those between the bones in the skull — don’t move at all. 

The are three main types of joints:

  1. Synovial joints include the knee, hip, and elbow joints. These joints allow for your body’s biggest movements. They’re made up of cartilage, fluid, and ligaments. 

  2. Cartilaginous joints can be found in the pelvis and ribs. These joints don’t move very much — or at all — compared to synovial joints. They are made up of cartilage.

  3. Fibrous joints are the ones found in your skull. They have fibrous connective tissue and usually don’t move or move very little.

Common joint conditions

Arthritis is a general term that describes a condition affecting one or more joints. Common symptoms of any type of arthritis are:

  • Joint pain

  • Decreased movement

  • Swelling

  • Instability 

There are different types and causes of arthritis. Osteoarthritis is the most common. It is more likely to happen with older age, when cartilage in the joint breaks down over time. 

Other types of arthritis include:

There are other conditions that affect structures, like tendons and ligaments, around or close to the joint. These are different from arthritis. They don’t involve the joint itself but can cause similar symptoms. Examples include:

  • Bursitis

  • Tendonitis

  • Fibromyalgia

  • Fractures

  • Sprains

Food and joint health

Foods that are part of an anti-inflammatory diet can be helpful for your joints. 

The Mediterranean and DASH diets are common examples of diets that naturally include a lot of these foods. But you don’t have to follow a specific diet to benefit. Try adding in more anti-inflammatory foods like:

You can try cutting back on foods that increase inflammation:

An anti-inflammatory diet has benefits beyond joint health, too. It may help decrease your risk of other common diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. So, making these changes can provide lots of benefits.

Vitamins and supplements for joint health

There are many vitamins and supplements marketed for joint health. When choosing vitamins and supplements, it’s important to remember that these products aren’t regulated by the FDA like medications are. So, if you're going to take a vitamin or supplement, it’s a good idea to discuss it with your healthcare provider to find out about potential side effects or interactions with other medications.

There is a long list of vitamins and supplements studied for joint health, including:

  • Fish oil

  • SAM-e

  • Curcumin (turmeric)

  • Glucosamine and chondroitin

  • Calcium and vitamin D

  • Vitamins A, C, E, and K

There’s not strong evidence that particular vitamins or supplements help with overall joint health or arthritis symptoms. But, depending on your needs, you may find a vitamin or supplement is helpful. For example, chondroitin sulfate isn’t recommended for knee or hip osteoarthritis, but it may help pain from hand osteoarthritis. 

Exercise for joint health

If you have arthritis, joint pain can make it difficult to keep moving. But exercise is recommended for people with arthritis. Moving regularly helps manage pain and improves joint mobility. Keeping your muscles strong helps with strength and balance, preventing falls and injuries over time. 

Experts recommend that adults with arthritis aim for a total of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise every week. Also, strength training is a good idea twice per week to make your muscles stronger. Strong muscles support your joints.

If you haven’t been exercising, you don’t have to start with this amount right away. You can gradually increase the duration and intensity.

Still, arthritis symptoms can make it harder to exercise. You may find that low-impact activities make it a bit easier. These include activities like: 

  • Walking

  • Biking

  • Swimming

  • Water aerobics

  • Group exercise classes

  • Dancing 

How to manage joint pain

Living with joint pain can be frustrating, but there are many things you can do to help: 

  • Healthy lifestyle: Exercising, eating a healthy diet, and taking certain vitamins or supplements (if they’re right for you) can all help manage your joint pain.

  • Medications: Medications include both over-the-counter and prescription options. Some of these come in pill form. Others are topical — applied to the skin — in the form of creams, gels, or patches. Injections of medication into the joint can also help.

  • Physical and occupational therapy: Treatment from a licensed physical or occupational therapist can help improve your strength and mobility while reducing pain. This can help you stay active and make it easier to do your daily activities. 

  • Joint replacement surgery: Sometimes surgery is the best way to treat joint pain and improve mobility. 

You may need to try more than one of these options — or use a few together — before you find what helps the most, but relief is possible.

Frequently asked questions

What foods trigger arthritis?

When you have arthritis, what you eat may affect how your joints feel. For example, foods high in purine trigger gout, so avoiding these foods can prevent a flare. Eating a Mediterranean-type diet if you have rheumatoid arthritis can help joint pain by decreasing inflammation. This can also help osteoarthritis and even limit weight gain that can make osteoarthritis worse.

What is the best thing for joint pain?

The best thing for your joint pain depends on what’s causing it — and on what works best for you. For osteoarthritis of the hip, knee, and hand, there are different treatments that can be used alone or in combination. Examples are exercise, oral NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), and weight loss. For rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis, prescription medications like disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) or biologic medications can help.

How can you naturally lubricate your joints?

In addition to the above tips for joint health, there are a few easy things you can do to keep your joints well lubricated. Before exercise, take a few minutes to warm-up your muscles and joints. It is also good to take some time for stretching during or after exercise, when your body is warm. And since your joints are lubricated by fluid, be sure to stay well hydrated.

References

American College of Rheumatology. (2023). Exercise and arthritis.

American Heart Association. (2020). What is the Mediterranean diet?

View All References (12)

Arthritis Foundation. (n.d.). Mediterranean diet for osteoarthritis

Arthritis Foundation. (n.d.) Popular supplements for arthritis: What you need to know

Bilodeau, K. (2022). An anti-inflammatory diet may be good for your joints. Harvard Health Publishing.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020) Osteoarthritis (OA).

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). Physical activity for arthritis.

England, B. M., et al. (2023). 2022 American College of Rheumatology guideline for exercise, rehabilitation, diet, and additional integrative interventions for rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis Care and Research.

Juneja, P., et al. (2023). Anatomy, joints. StatPearls. 

Kamrani, P., et al. (2023). Anatomy, connective tissue. StatPearls.

Kolasinski, S. L., et al. (2020). 2019 American College of Rheumatology/Arthritis Foundation guideline for the management of osteoarthritis of the hand, hip, and knee. Arthritis and Rheumatology

Li, J. et al. (2020). Dietary inflammatory potential and risk of cardiovascular disease among men and women in the U.S. Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Namazi, N., et al. (2023). Pro-inflammatory diet, cardio-metabolic risk factors and risk of type 2 diabetes: A cross-sectional analysis using data from RaNCD cohort study. Cardiovascular Disorders. 

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2021). Dietary supplements

GoodRx Health has strict sourcing policies and relies on primary sources such as medical organizations, governmental agencies, academic institutions, and peer-reviewed scientific journals. Learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate, thorough, and unbiased by reading our editorial guidelines.

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