Food for thought: some foods actually make muscle and joint pain worse

Earle Logan

27 November 2014

Why is diet so important?

While there are certain foods that contain specific vitamins and minerals that can help soothe your aching joints and muscles naturally, such as those rich in magnesium, there are other foods that can actually increase pain and stiffness. This is usually because they trigger the inflammation response, so will worsen any inflammatory conditions.

There are a number of changes you can make to your diet to help keep your muscles and joints moving, such as avoiding foods which increase inflammation and instead choosing good substitutes that will actually help relieve your discomfort.

Foods to avoid, and what to replace them with

It can be overwhelming when someone reels of a list of delicious foods that you are no longer allowed, so to balance this out I've included the foods you should reduce or cut out, as well as some ideas of what to swap them for.

EAT FEWER saturated animal fats, keeping your intake of red meat, dairy products and eggs to a minimum to avoid too much arachidonic acid, which is inflammatory.

Instead eat more oily fish such as herring, mackerel, sardines and salmon, as these have a positive effect on inflammation. You can take a fish oil supplement if you don’t eat fish regularly. Choose low-fat or no-fat dairy products, lean cuts of beef and pork, and skinless chicken and turkey.

EAT FEWER processed foods, white flour baked goods, white rice, and white bread, which have no nutrients to offer you in exchange for the calories they pile on. Processed foods often use up valuable nutrients such as magnesium in the process of metabolising, but have nothing nutritionally useful to give you in return.

Instead eat more green leafy vegetables, oats, dried fruits such as figs, seeds such as pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds, beans such as kidney beans, and sardines, as they are all rich in magnesium, which encourages the proper absorption of calcium. Without sufficient magnesium, calcium may be dumped as painful crystals in and around the joints. Magnesium also helps muscles to relax. People with low magnesium levels tend to feel more pain generally.

EAT LESS sugar. I know it may be hard to resist, especially if you have a sweet tooth, but some researchers have found that sugar may increase inflammation, which in turn increases pain, especially for those suffering from inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, gout and fibromyalgia. Plus, eating high-calorie sugary foods causes weight gain, which puts added pressure on your joints.

Instead eat more fresh fruit. Satisfy your sweets cravings with natural sugars from fresh fruits, such as pineapple, papaya, mango, guava. These all contain digestive enzymes that help reduce acidity in the body.

DRINK LESS caffeine and alcohol, which use up the vital mineral magnesium and vitamins B and C, and are also triggers for inflammatory processes.

Instead drink more still, plain water. Dehydration is often a trigger for joint pain, so keeping well hydrated is simple and important. Taking a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with a teaspoon of honey in a glass of warm water first thing in the morning can help reduce acidity and is good for digestion.

A quick guide to the foods to eat and avoid for muscle and joint pain

Eat more

Eat less

Oily fish Dairy foods
Green leafy vegetables such as kale Meat
Vegetable oils Eggs
Wholegrain products Citrus fruits
Oats Processed foods
Figs White flour
Pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds White rice
Kidney beans Potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, aubergines
Pineapple, papaya, mango and guava Sugar


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  • Geoffrey lee 's photo avatar
    Geoffrey lee — 25.05.2018 10:12
    I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in every joint last year some days are worse than others but does it cause muscle pain as well my rheumatoid count was 351 and a global score of 75 pls answer as I'm trying to combat on going pain


    • Earle's photo avatar
      Earle — 25.05.2018 11:18
      Hello Geoffrey Absolutely. Unfortunately, inflammation doesn’t confine itself to the joints. Here’s some more information which I hope is of interest: You may consider using our Atrogel product in addition to your medication for extra effect in the worst affected areas.


    • Geoffrey lee 's photo avatar
      Geoffrey lee — 25.05.2018 11:18
      Thanks very much big help


  • Gill's photo avatar
    Gill — 23.05.2018 07:22
    I have problems sleeping as I sleep on my side and my hips ache after a while can't sleep on my back


    • Rosalie's photo avatar
      Rosalie — 24.05.2018 21:13
      I too am a side sleeper and recently have started to have hip and rib pain. I tried sleeping on my back but that aggravated my sciatica. I have found some relief when sleeping on my side to use a body pillow...I put one end between my thighs and wrap my arms around the other end. When I do sleep on my back I elevate my legs on a foam cushion that has a wedge shape on one side and a cube shape on the other.


    • Geoffrey lee 's photo avatar
      Geoffrey lee — 25.05.2018 10:16
      Hi try amytriptolyine from the doctors 1 tablet at night helps to relax


  • Bertha's photo avatar
    Bertha — 20.05.2018 22:53
    I am so stiff I can hardly stand myself I do t know what to do anymore ...sore and tired very discouraged


    • Earle's photo avatar
      Earle — 21.05.2018 07:54
      Hello Bertha Try these couple of suggestions for a fortnight. They’re free and help a lot of people. First, drink 6-8 glasses of plain water a day. Water hydrates the joint capsule, a bubble of water in every joint. When this dries, joints feel stiff. Second, I notice you were sending your question at almost 11pm. If you’re a night owl, be aware that physical repair processes are most active between the hours of 11pm and 1am, IF you’re asleep. All the body’s repair work happens while we are asleep, so any disturbance of this affects our experience of pain and makes health issues harder to manage. If you’ve been suffering for a long time, a fortnight is no time at all so give it a go!


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Did you know?

Foods such as red meat and dairy products and drinks such as caffeine and alcohol can all trigger inflammation which can increase muscle and joint pain.

Worst foods for muscle & joint pain
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