joint pain

Illustration: Libby Vanderploeg

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The Best Thing to Do for Joint Pain

We're wearing out our joints faster than ever: Over the previous decade, knee replacement surgeries increased by a staggering 120 percent, and hip replacements shot up 73 percent—with much of the increase among people younger than 65—according to studies presented at the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons' 2014 annual meeting. "People are heavier than they used to be a generation or two ago, and as a result, our joints have to handle much more pressure than they were designed to," says Howard Smith, MD, a rheumatologist and osteoarthritis specialist at the Cleveland Clinic. Stave off further damage starting now:

Lose weight. Of course, the more heft you have, the more pressure—and damage—you do to your joints. But that's not the only reason to lighten up: "Research shows that obesity is associated with osteoarthritis even in joints not directly affected by extra pounds, like those in your hands," says Smith. "We believe that chemicals released by fat tissue, such as cytokines, may cause inflammation in the body and break down joint cartilage, contributing to osteoarthritis."

Take Chondroitin. This over-the-counter supplement—of a substance that occurs naturally in the body's cartilage—was more successful than a prescription drug in reducing the progression of knee osteoarthritis when subjects took 1,200 milligrams daily, according to a 2015 study.

Increase your exercise intensity. When your joints hurt, the last thing you want to do is pound the pavement, but high-impact exercise, like jumping, actually slows cartilage breakdown in postmenopausal women with mild knee osteoarthritis when implemented progressively, reports a small 2015 Finnish study. Intense exercise increases blood flow to joints and also releases endorphins, both of which help reduce pain.