What Can I Eat to Help Ease the Pain of Osteoarthritis?

couple sitting on the couch with a man holding his knee in pain

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. Older adults often get osteoarthritis due to a number of risk factors. There are many helpful things you can do to ease the pain of osteoarthritis. Read on for some helpful advice.

What is osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a type of arthritis that affects the cartilage that cushions your bones at the joints. Cartilage helps your bones glide over one another. If cartilage breaks down, the bones rub together. Osteoarthritis is a chronic (long lasting) condition.

What are the symptoms of osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis causes pain and stiffness in the joints. Osteoarthritis is often worse in the knees, hips and small hand joints. In most cases, the exact cause of osteoarthritis is not known.

Who is at risk of getting osteoarthritis?

  • Osteoarthritis is genetic. That means you are more likely to get osteoarthritis if a family member also has it.

  • Women are more likely to get osteoarthritis than men.

  • The risk of developing osteoarthritis increases as you age.

  • Being overweight increases the risk of getting osteoarthritis. This happens because extra weight causes more wear and tear on the cartilage and joints.

  • Osteoarthritis can also occur due to repeated joint stress from certain physical jobs or sports.

  • Having metabolic syndrome or type 2 diabetes increases your risk of osteoarthritis.

How can I manage osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis cannot be cured. The good news is that you can manage your symptoms.

Physical activity and osteoarthritis

Start by being active. Physical activity is an important treatment, regardless of your age or level of pain. It can help:

  • Reduce pain

  • Maintain and improve joint movement

  • Improve physical function

Swimming is a good option since it puts no pressure on your joints. Activities that strengthen your muscles, such as weightlifting, are also important. Speak to your healthcare provider or see a physical therapist before starting a physical activity program.

Weight management and osteoarthritis

Studies show that weight loss may help improve physical function for people with osteoarthritis who are carrying extra weight. Weight loss may also help ease pain on the joints. Click here to read about weight management strategies that work, and check out the balanced eating tips below. If you have questions about your weight, connect with a dietitian – they can work with you to create a sustainable plan that meets your goals and preferences.  

Other treatments for osteoarthritis

  • Some people find acupuncture, physical therapy or massage to be helpful.

  • Applying heat and cold may also provide some pain relief.

  • Severe cases of osteoarthritis may need surgery to replace or repair damaged joints.

Does a balanced diet help osteoarthritis?

Healthy eating may help reduce the symptoms of different types of arthritis. Here are five healthy eating strategies to get your started:

1. Enjoy a variety of nutritious foods based on Canada’s Food Guide. This will provide the right balance of nutrients that your body needs.

2. Enjoy plenty of  vegetables and fruits each day. Pick lots of bright orange and green options, such as broccoli, cantaloupe and carrots. They are high in antioxidants, which may reduce inflammation, decrease cartilage breakdown and slow the progress of osteoarthritis. Try this tasty Lentil, Sweet Potato and Cauliflower curry for your next dinner.

3. Choose more whole grains such as brown rice, barley and oats. They have more antioxidants than refined grains, such as white bread and white rice and help increase your fibre intake. Try this Beet and Barley salad or Overnight Apple Pie Oatmeal.

4. Choose more unsaturated fats like canola and olive oil, nuts like walnuts and almonds and fish like salmon.

5. Make water your drink of choice. Limit drinks with lots of sugar like soda and juice.

Are there supplements that can help osteoarthritis?

Two supplements called glucosamine and chondroitin are thought to be helpful for osteoarthritis. However, they are not currently licensed for use as drugs to treat osteoarthritis because research does not show that they are effective and they may have serious side effects. If you choose to try these products, make sure you buy ones that have a Natural Product Number (NPN). This means they are licensed with the Natural Health Products Directorate in Canada. Speak to your dietitian or health professional before starting any supplements so that they can help you pick what is right for you.

What about omega-3 fats? Do they help with Osteoarthritis?

Supplementing with omega-3 fats (DHA and EPA) have not been found to improve symptoms of osteoarthritis. However, eating foods with omega-3 fats are good for your heart and should be included regularly in your diet. Read our article on omega-3 to learn more.

How can a dietitian help?

A dietitian can help you make food choices that meet your goals and help you get the nutrients you need to be healthy and prevent disease. They will give you a personalized plan that considers your medical conditions, lifestyle, budget and culture. Connect with a dietitian today!

Bottom line

If you have osteoarthritis, be active, enjoy a variety of nutritious foods and maintain a weight that is right for you. This can help ease the pain in your joints. Speak to your healthcare provider before taking medicine for osteoarthritis.  

You may also be interested in:

Arthritis: Here’s What You Need to Know
What You Need to Know About Sugar
Top 5 Reasons to See a Dietitian
This article was written and reviewed by dietitians from Dietitians of Canada. The advice in this article is intended as general information and should not replace advice given by your dietitian or healthcare provider.

Last Update – December 7, 2022

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