Joint pain can be an extremely debilitating and distressing experience, punctuated by pain, discomfort and restricted mobility. Whether you have been suffering from an autoimmune condition like rheumatoid arthritis or have sustained an injury, the chances are that you’ve been prescribed a variety of pain medications from your doctor, which may or may not be relieving your symptoms.
However, you might also be overlooking a simple but essential factor in the management of joint pain - water.
Most of us are probably aware of the overall benefits of drinking water – it can prevent kidney infections, it keeps our skin cells strong, it supports our immune system and generally keeps things ticking over. On average, we should be drinking about 8-10 glasses of plain water a day, depending on our gender and lifestyle. What we're perhaps not so knowledgeable about, however, is how water can directly impact our sensitivity to joint pain.
In order to understand this, we first have to understand the function of cartilage. The cartilage is a connective tissue that lines the surface of the joints and acts as a cushion between the bones, absorbing shock and easing friction. Cartilage is kept lubricated by a gel-like liquid known as synovial fluid, which is formed by glycosaminoglycan bonding with sulphur compounds.
Joint pain usually occurs when the cartilage has been weakened or damaged, which then leads to typical symptoms such as inflammation, pain and stiffness. Since approximately 60% of joint cartilage is made from water, it is critical that we keep hydrated if the cartilage is damaged, otherwise, our production of synovial fluid will be reduced and we increase our risk of friction pain and cartilage deterioration.
Now that we have an understanding of how important water is in keeping the joints lubricated, it is worth examining how water can work to reduce specific types of joint pain, ranging from osteoarthritis to gout.
This is not to say that simply drinking more fluids will cause all your symptoms to diminish, but it will almost certainly help to improve the health of your joints and may work to lessen some of the pain you are feeling.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune illness where the immune system starts to attack the tissues surrounding the joints. This condition is usually episodic in nature, characterised by painful flare-ups and periods where symptoms are diminished. It normally presents itself in the smaller joints such as the fingers or toes and can be exacerbated by dehydration.
Certain symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, such as diarrhoea or vomiting, can predispose the joints to desiccation. Even some of the medicines prescribed by doctors can inhibit water from reaching the joints. On top of this, the likes of aspirin can even confuse our ability to perceive thirst.
This is why it is critical that we continue to drink water as it can stimulate our production of synovial fluid, reduce inflammation around the joint and encourage the growth of new cells in the cartilage tissues. Water can also alleviate other unpleasant rheumatoid symptoms such as constipation or dizziness.
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This is what we would refer to as 'wear and tear' arthritis. One of the most common causes of joint pain, osteoarthritis, unlike rheumatoid arthritis, usually appears in the larger joints of the hips and knees making it one of the more debilitating joint conditions.
Osteoarthritis usually occurs due to cartilage in the joints becoming worn or defective. There is no definitive cause for the condition, but the likelihood of sustaining it can be increased by our genes, age and lifestyle habits such as obesity. In these cases, the sufferer is often advised to exercise and lose weight in order to relieve the pressure on the joint and reduce friction.
Drinking plenty of water can aid this weight-loss process by increasing our blood circulation during a workout and helping to inspire the formation of stronger tissue cells in the affected areas of cartilage.
Gout is usually triggered by high levels of uric acid in the bloodstream. When the body is unable to excrete this acid, it can crystallise around the joints, weakening the connective tissue. This influx of uric acid is commonly caused by a diet rich in purines which are found in certain foods such as meat, fish and some alcoholic beverages. If there is too much of this acid present in our bodies, it will not be dissolved into our bloodstream and will struggle to pass through our kidneys.
Dehydration can exacerbate this process by further impairing the function of our kidneys and their ability to flush out uric acid, which can stimulate an episode of gout.
Joint injuries can arise from many different circumstances, from sporting accidents to bursitis. Pain is usually triggered by a violent impact, repetitive movement or inflammation. In the case of bursitis, the bursa, a fluid sac that cushions the tendons and ones, becomes swollen over time, making it difficult to move the affected joint.
Sometimes minor surgery may be the only solution to the issue, but drinking plenty of water can reduce inflammation, support circulation and support the immune system, enabling it to produce the necessary chemicals to promote a quick recovery.
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It is important to remember that drinking water alone will not cure your joint pain symptoms and, in some cases, surgery or conventional medicine will be necessary.
However, if you want to try a natural solution to help ease your joint pain, then it might be worthwhile checking out some of our herbal remedies such as Devil's claw . Devil's claw is a natural remedy made from extracts of the Devil's claw plant found in the Kalahari. It can be taken by anyone over the age of 18 to relieve mild symptoms of joint pain, rheumatism and backache.
Originally published 19 September 2016 (updated 6 January 2021)