Osteoarthritis is the most common cause of knee pain in women over 50. If you have arthritic knees, decreased mobility and chronic pain can hinder your ability to remain active and fully participate in life as you grow older. Because physical activity is so beneficial for the mind, body, and spirit, it’s also one of the most powerful ways to support healthy aging… Therefore, addressing knee pain becomes a critical issue.
Many of my private practice patients (mostly women over 50) gain weight as they navigate through menopause. Doctors, personal trainers, dieticians, fitness instructors, even your friends and family may suggest that “You’d better lose weight; the excess poundage places a terrible strain on your knees.” This mantra has been deeply ingrained into our minds and psyches. If you’ve gained weight thanks to menopause, I know you’d love to lose those unwanted pounds – but losing weight takes time, and your knees are hurting now.
Perhaps you believe you’ll have to learn to live with knee pain until you lose weight. Rest assured, I’m revealing a few powerful strategies to ease your knee pain long before you even lose that first pound.
Knee Pain Relief Without Weight Loss
While additional bodyweight creates added stress on your joints, there are strategies that don’t entail losing weight. So, whether you’re currently at a your healthy weight, you want to shed a few pounds, or you need to lose 100 pounds or more, there are things you can do that will help you feel better NOW.
Meet Rhonda: Her Story of Knee Pain and Excess Weight
A few years ago, Rhonda, a registered nurse, came to me with pain in several joints. Her right knee, visibly swollen, was her biggest concern. Discouraged and considering early retirement, she told me, “It hurts terribly to just get up from my desk at work and walk across the hall to the bathroom.” Her doctor prescribed anti-inflammatories and pain medication, which she faithfully took. After several weeks, however, she reported that she still had a moderate degree of pain and mild swelling. Not only was she was concerned about the side effects of the drugs, she also didn’t want to rely on medication for the rest of her life.
Like many of the women over 50 I work with, Rhonda had put on a few postmenopausal pounds – forty to be exact. With her petite frame, it indeed became a cause of added strain on her joints. When I discussed treatment options and home care remedies with her, she was surprised that weight loss wasn’t on the menu.
Despite also needing to lose some postmenopausal excess weight, Rhonda began using the 5 natural remedies below for knee pain. Within two weeks, her knees were almost pain free!
5 Natural Ways to Relieve Knee Pain Now
This is the primary healing modality I use in my private practice for relieving knee pain. Acupuncture has been well studied, and many research trials support its effectiveness in reducing pain, joint stiffness, and physical disability due to arthritis. Most people with arthritic knee pain who undergo a series of acupuncture sessions with me achieve significant relief within a few weeks. Results are even better when combined with one or more of the tips below.
Many of my patients have been able to delay knee replacement surgery with a course of acupuncture sessions. Others have chosen regular acupuncture treatments as an alternative to surgery. Everyone will have a different outcome, but I suggest you give it a try. Ask your friends or your doctor for a referral to an acupuncturist in your area.
Several powerful supplements have been proven to reduce inflammation and ease joint pain. Curcumin is one of the most studied, and my go-to for my patients (and myself). Curcumin is the active component of the spice turmeric. Use the spice, of course, but to get a therapeutic dose, you’ll need to take curcumin in a capsule. It’s most effective when delivered in an emulsification (a gel cap, suspended in oil).
Typical dose: begin with 1000 – 1500mg, three times per day. Maintain that dose for the first 5 days, then taper the dose gradually down to about 400 – 500 mg per day for general health and wellness.
**DO NOT take curcumin if you are taking a blood thinner.
Eliminate refined sugar! You know what to avoid – things like cake, cookies, candy, soft drinks, fruit juices, and sauces like BBQ and ketchup (which contain added sugar) are examples of what to stay away from. A note about the natural sugars in fruit: fructose is a sugar that occurs naturally in fruit. While fruit does contain many beneficial phytonutrients, consuming too much fruit can ramp up inflammation in the body. My recommendation for most people is to limit daily fruit consumption to a maximum of 2 small servings per day. Fresh berries are a good choice. A typical serving is a ½ cup.
Chronic pain is made worse by lack of adequate sleep, and disrupted sleep is frequently the result of chronic pain. When you fail to get enough sleep, your sensitivity to pain can become heightened. Your body needs deep rest to repair tissues stressed from even simple, daily activities. Many women with knee pain experience this vicious cycle. An intervention that addresses both (the pain and insomnia) yields the best outcomes. Go here for tips to get better sleep.
5. Allowing Pain with 3 Simple Steps
Seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? However, when you “resist” uncomfortable sensations in your body, your perception of that pain can become intensified, making your discomfort much worse. The “fight or flight” response in your body is also heightened. Read this article for more about this phenomenon. Practicing non-resistance isn’t just good for minimizing your experience of pain. The practices below not only tamp down your mental perception and emotional reaction to pain, they also reduce the stress (fight or flight) response in your body.
Healing occurs when your hormones and nervous system are in their relaxed state, referred to as parasympathetic dominance. In this state, your body is primed to repair, rejuvenate, and nourish itself. So, by eliciting this relaxation response, you’ll not only reduce the intensity of your pain, you’ll also be creating that state of self-healing physiology in your body… And your knees will thank you!
3 Simple Steps to Pain Management
Below are three simple steps for minimizing the stress response that occurs when you’re experiencing pain. If you’d like to read more about “allowing pain,” check out this article (I also share a story of how I unintentionally brought a very sweet patient to tears).
Step 1: Use Your Breath
Inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds, and exhale for 8 seconds. Repeat as many times as you need to. You can do this anywhere! It’s beneficial during an episode of intense pain, and it’s also helpful anytime you notice your stress level rising.
Step 2: Grab Your Journal
Write a detailed description of your pain. Describe its location – perhaps you feel pain in several areas of your body. What about the quality? Is it dull, sharp, or tight? Describe the intensity. Does it come in waves or is it constant? What else are you experiencing in your body? Do you feel any nausea? Does your heart race? Is there a color you image when you feel this pain? One of my patients found “drawing” how she imagined her pain to be very helpful. She said that when she did this, she immediately noticed her entire body relax, and the pain seemed to loosen its grip on her.
Step 3: Have a Chat with Your Pain
Welcome it. The fact is that in this very moment, your pain is a part of you. Whether it is a chronic, deep ache, sharp stab, or an excruciating spasm, it is your current experience. You might imagine “pain” knocking at your front door. Why not invite her in for a cup of tea? If you keep ignoring her, she’s likely to knock louder… Or keep coming back until you let her in. Spend time getting to know her better. Seriously, pour yourself a cup of tea and (out loud) engage in a conversation. She may have some valuable insight to share with you.
What About Exercise?
Exercise is good for arthritic joints!
You can (and in fact, you should) increase physical activity, even if you are currently suffering from arthritic knee pain. You might be trepidatious, worried you’ll make things worse… Or perhaps getting motivated is difficult because of your current degree of pain and stiffness. Read this article, How to Exercise When Your Joints Ache From Arthritis, for helpful tips if you’re currently experiencing joint pain.
The type of exercise, frequency, and intensity that will produce the best outcome for you depends on multiple factors. Most people can tolerate walking, water exercise, Tai Chi, and gentle rebounding (mini-trampoline). Strengthening exercises need to be a part of your weekly routine as well. You may benefit from some guidance to get started, so seek out a physical therapist or a qualified personal trainer if you aren’t sure where to start. I’ve been very impressed with each of the Pilates instructors I’ve worked with over the past several years, so see if you can get a referral.
Rhonda’s Weight Loss Success
Two years after Rhonda found relief from knee pain, she ultimately reached her happy, healthy weight. You may be thinking, “Wow, that seems like a long time to lose forty pounds.”
…But you know that quick fixes rarely equate to long-term, permanent solutions, don’t you?
Being Overweight is a Symptom
Sharing strategies to ease knee pain without losing weight should not imply that addressing weight gain doesn’t matter… In fact, this is a health concern that women frequently come to me for assistance in resolving. Though not the primary focus of this article, I use a consistent approach when helping private patients and clients address weight gain.
Excess weight is a symptom of something deeper… My approach to weight loss entails discovering the root causes: why and how did your body store this additional fat. They may be physiological (such as hormonal and metabolic imbalances, impaired detoxification, a “leaky gut”) or psychological (as in habitual, stress-related or emotional overeating). Regardless, the underlying causes of extra weight on your body must be resolved. Only then will permanent, lasting weight loss ensue – and the process won’t be a struggle! You’ll be working with your body, not fighting against it.