Exercise has so many health benefits that it's hard to understand why everyone isn't doing it on a regular basis. But what if it hurts to exercise? If you have joint pain, you may wonder whether exercise is good for you or even possible to do. In conventional medicine, joint pain is treated with synthetic medication, typically nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as naproxen (Aleve) or ibuprofen (Motrin). These medicines usually are effective for short-term use, but they do not cure the problem, and they can harm your stomach. For these reasons, I prefer to start with natural methods, which usually do a terrific job at reducing-and sometimes even eliminating-joint pain. My favorite remedies for joint pain-roughly in order of importance…

REMEDY #1: Get serious about stress reduction. An increasing body of evidence now shows that stress reduction really does reduce pain. You may have noticed this through your own experiences-for example, your pain lessens while you're on vacation or during a relaxed weekend. Three stress-reducing methods that I highly recommend are yoga, meditation and massage. I advise patients to engage in one or more of these practices on a regular basis. An ideal stress-reducing regimen might include daily meditation, yoga three times a week and/ or massage once a week.

REMEDY #2: Investigate food allergies. Eating food to which you are allergic can significantly increase pain. Wheat, soy and peanuts are common food allergens. To start, eliminate suspected foods to see if your symptoms improve and then reappear when the foods are reintroduced. Or ask a naturopathic physician to test you for food allergies using a blood test for IGG immunoglobulins (antibodies reach high levels with food allergies). If food allergies don't seem to be contributing to your pain, you may want to consider giving up animal-based foods, including meat. Animal-based foods are generally inflammatory, which means that they contain a high percentage of arachidonic acids that can promote and aggravate pain. Keep in mind that you can often get more inflammation-fighting omega-3s from plant sources, such as flaxseed and walnuts, than from fish.

REMEDY #3: Try Boswellia serrata. This herbal remedy contains nutrients that reduce inflammation and improve both acute and chronic joint pain.

Typical dose: 300 mg three times a day for four weeks, then 300 mg one to three times a day if needed for pain. It's generally safe, but check with your doctor before trying this remedy.

REMEDY #4: Get some mild exercise. Many people mistakenly assume that exercise will damage joints and increase pain, but studies show that regular mild exercise, such as swimming, yoga or pilates, promotes circulation within joints and will reduce inflammation and pain. Work out up to the point of pain, then stop and repeat the exercise the next day-ideally, until you can do the activity for an hour a day, six days a week. If you have joint degeneration or severe pain, check with your doctor first.

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