Seven things you can do to ease joint pain

From natural supplements and painkillers to cold and heat packs

Health Tip: Joint Pain

Your joints connect your bones, support your weight and allow you to move. While they are designed to endure a certain amount of stress, wear and tear can be a problem as you age.

The leading cause of joint pain and stiffness in older people is osteoarthritis, but joint pain can be caused by a variety of things – from strains, sprains and injuries to bursitis, gout, and rheumatoid arthritis.

See also: How diet affects arthritis

See also: Arthritis - should you treat the pain with heat or cold?

The best way to treat your joint pain will depend on the cause, so it's important to see your doctor for a diagnosis. That said, here are seven things you can do to temporarily relieve the pain.

1. Diclofenac works best
For moderate joint pain with swelling, an over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) such as aspirin or ibuprofen can provide relief. If over-the-counter painkillers don't help, see your GP who may be able to prescribe stronger painkillers.

A recent Swiss study published in The Lancet found that paracetamol, at any dose, had a very low chance of improving pain linked to osteoarthritis (0-4% chance), despite being advised as the painkiller of first choice in current guidance. In contrast, diclofenac (150mg per day) and etoricoxib (30, 60 or 90mg per day) were found more likely to improve pain (between 95 and 100% likely).

Depending on the source of your joint pain, your doctor may prescribe further medication, such as muscle relaxants and antidepressants or antiepileptic drugs, which help to block pain signals.

2. Capsaicin supplements
Capsaicin was found to be the best supplement for the treatment of joint pain caused by osteoarthritis in a survey by Arthritis Research UK. Extracted from chilli peppers, it works by reducing Substance P (which plays a key role in transmitting pain signals from nerve endings to the brain) and reduces tenderness in affected joints. You can buy it on prescription in the form of gels, creams and plasters.

3. Cold packs
If your joints are red, hot or swollen, a cold pack can reduce swelling and numb pain, making it a good choice when an arthritis flare-up first starts or joints become inflamed. It's also a good choice for acute injuries such as sprains or pulled muscles.

Try using a gel-filled ice pack, ice cubes in a sealable plastic bag or a packet of frozen peas. To avoid ice burns, wrap it in a towel before applying to your skin. If the skin turns red or becomes numb, remove it immediately. Don't apply for more than 20 mins at a time, and don't use on skin that has cuts or sores.

4. Heat packs
If you suffer with stiff joints and sore muscles, a heat pack can help to soothe the pain and improve movement. You can buy disposable heat packs that you warm in the microwave. Wrap heat packs in a towel before placing them on the skin to prevent burns and be careful if you have diabetes or a circulation problem which can make it harder to feel pain. Never apply heat to a joint that is red, hot or swollen.

5. Glucosamine and chondroitin supplements
Some research has shown that glucosamine and chondroitin supplements can help with joint pain and improve function, but other studies have found them to be ineffective. Both glucosamine and chondroitin are components of normal cartilage, which helps cushion the bones and protect joints. While they may not work for everyone, they don't have any significant side effects, so may be worth trying.

6. SAMe
To reduce the pain of osteoarthritis, try taking SAMe. The chemical compound is found naturally in the body and has been found to stimulate the production of cartilage and lessen pain in osteoarthritis sufferers. It also scored well (4 out of 5) in an Arthritis Research UK survey. You can buy it from Amazon for £14.33.

7. Indian frankincense capsules
Those with osteoarthritis of the knee might want to try Indian frankincense capsules, available from Amazon from £4.86. The Ayurvedic remedy scored well (4 out of 5) for its ability to prevent the production of hormone-like substances in the body that act as triggers for joint inflammation. Studies suggest it's particularly helpful for people with osteoarthritis of the knee.

8. Eat more oily fish or take a supplement
If you've been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, try eating more salmon, mackerel, sardines and fresh tuna. One major Swedish study found that women who ate at least one serving of oily fish each week had a 52 per cent lower risk of the condition, compared to those who ate very little. If you prefer, take fish body oil, available from Amazon from £7.99.

Fish oil scored 5 out of 5 points in Arthritis Research UK's Complementary and Alternative Medicines report for effectiveness. As well as being rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids, which have strong anti-inflammatory properties, it contains vitamin A (a powerful antioxidant) and vitamin D, which is important for maintaining healthy joints. Currently, there isn't enough evidence to suggest it is effective for osteoarthritis.

If you are suffering from joint pain, it's important to see your doctor to properly assess the cause and offer appropriate treatment. It's worth remembering that joint pain affects people differently - and a natural supplement that works for one person with osteoarthritis might not be effective for another.