How to Deal with and Overcome Joint Pain for Life
By Jay Campbell
March 9th, 2017
What do you do if your joints hurt? Ive experienced joint pain for YEARS, going back to my first back serious muscle tear in my lower back in high school. Ive never been blessed with “bullerproof” joints, Ive strained, sprained, torn, and given myself tendonitis more times than I can count. Because of this, I essentially train like a middle aged bodybuilder all the time. I know Im not able to get away with much in regards to go heavy, going for broke, and doing stupid stuff in the gym, or even outside of it. This cautious approach might seem a bit ridiculous for someone my age (I’ll be 28 in 2 months), but the facts are simple; Ive only got ONE body to get me through this life. I have no desire to be 50 and lamenting how strong I “used to be”, or how fit I “once was”. I loathe reminescing about better days.
My operative mentality is to be Jacked, Tan, and HEALTHY until the day I die.
And to do whatever it takes to maintain that. We already know that as we age, our body’s accumulates damage from Gravity. This is an inevitability as you cannot avoid gravity as a force. Especially as you mature, you must be more intelligent with your training and more cognizant of potential aches pains and injuries. I received this question from a reader regarding his own joint pain “my elbows both inside and outside have been tender and inflamed for many weeks. I have had recurring tendonitis over the past a few months whenever I lift weights. I’ve attempted to use massage, icing, heat and anti-inflammatories but nothing has worked. I’ve also stopped training arms. What do you suggest I do? Now, I am not there to evaluate this gentleman’s training but he is a former online client of mine, and I trust that he is training with good technique. This way this there’s always the possibility that joint and tendon pain can occur. In such a case where you have pulled out all the stops soda speak and trying to alleviate the symptoms what do you do? The following is my list of steps for dealing with joint aches and pains.
1. Eliminate all movements from your training that aggravate the condition
You must be objective about doing this. Typically I would suggest starting with the elimination of barbell movements. Barbell movements tend to be the hardest upon the joints. Be cognizant that barbell movements are almost always going to cause some degree of joint stress, even with excellent technique. Unless you have access to Specialty bars, do not get caught up in thinking that you must perform barbell movements during a workout. While the barbell is certainly an effective training tool it is not an absolute necessity. Next, I would consider eliminating any machine or dumbbell movements that cause pain. Lastly, I would quickly analyze cable and bodyweight movements. Typically speaking body weight and cable movements are the least stressful upon the joints. Machines often fall somewhere in between and it depends upon the machine and question whether or not it works for you. Dumbbells can be aggravating but there are many ways to modified normal movements to alleviate or eliminate this completely.
2. Use Unloaded movement
This works excellent for lower body issues. Using a suspension trainer, you can deload bodyweight squats, lunges, rows and presses, and even curls and extensions. Slowly progress back to doing these movements pain-free. There are a lot of suspension trainers. The TRX is the most common found in gyms and works very well, but the WOSS trainer is the best value I’ve found if you are looking to keep spending to a minimum.
3. Take time off from training what pains you
This can be humbling for the ego but it needs to happen. If a certain joint is hurting no matter what you do or how much you try to solve for it, the only real solution is to not train at all. There are times I have told clients not to train lower body for a full month or not to train upper body. So long as you maintain your protein intake and do not take excessive amounts of time off from training you will not lose any much muscle mass, and you will gain it back when you resume training again.
4. Experiment with reduced training frequency
We tend to think of training in one week time frames simply because that is how our time is typically structured. But there is no rule that says you must train your entire body within 7 days. There are also no rules that say you must train a certain muscle group a certain number of times. In practice, you can experiment with longer training weeks, like training over 10 days or even 14 days. For example, if your knees are aggravating you, train them once a week. Or try train your lower body once every 10 days. The same could be done for upper body. If you have shoulder issues structure your training so that you trained chest and shoulders once every 8 to 10 days. This strategy of infrequent frequency can be applied to any muscle group.
5. Perform isolation movements only
Again there are no rules that you must use compound movements in training. Using a combination of isolation exercises can be equally as effective in using compound movements to at least maintain muscle mass. In some cases, training with isolation movements can actually be more effective than using a compound movement for particular muscle group. Isolation movements can be very easily modified to suit someone’s limitations and they are very safe to perform. If DB pressing bothers your shoulders but cable chest flys and cable presses do not, then go with the flys. Apply that to any muscle group and it’s possible that you may still be able to train it while allowing the joint to recover.
6. Slow down your reps
This require you to reduce the weight you use but it will also make movements apply stressful all the joints. Slowing down the eccentric portion of your rep significantly can make a big difference and reducing the aggravation. If you combine this tempo strategy with using cables in machines you may find that you are still able to train the particular joint/muscle that has been in pain.
7. Maximize hydration
This goes beyond just drinking water. I have advocated for using Intra Workout Mix in the past but it can truly make a difference when someone has aggravated joints and muscles. Having your tissues fully hydrated definitely affects how they contract and are neurologically innervated. I suggest an Intraworkout mix of fast-digesting carbohydrates, electrolytes, and hydrolyzed protein.
8. ART Therapy
ART stands for Active Release Technique. Therapists trained in this method are the best practicioners bar none for solving muscular constrictions, scar tissue, and generally restoring functionality. Like any soft tissue therapist, you still have to vet who you work with, but I would definitely recommend finding an ART practicioner and using soft tissue therapy as a strategy to expedite healing and get out of pain
9. Soft tissue therapy
Aside from ART therapy, the evidence on massage being beneficial for pain management, relaxation, and recuperation is massive. Any kind of massage that you find beneficial can be helpful. If you’ve never gotten massage, start off with something basic and gentle, like Swedish massage, and then progress from there.
I’ve talked about curcumin in the past, this stuff really does have some amazing effects on inflamed joints. The best strategy is to take 2-3 capsules with every meal, and there tends to be a decrease in overall inflammation within 5-10 days. I cannot promise it will work for everyone, but its a relatively cheap supplement with very potent effects.
11. Fish Oil
Fish oil is well-proven to have anti-inflammatory properties. While I personally have never noticed any effects from it, I have a lot of friends and colleagues that swear by it, and formal research back up using it. 6 grams a day is the sweet spot, so about 2 capsules with your meals
This is a “new” one, but collagen for joints has actually been around for thousands of years, in the form of bone broth is such a health food. Collagen is used in all of your bodies joints and connective tissues, so it sensible that supplementing with it could have a positive effect on these things. The best form of gelatin is Hydrolyzed gelatin. It is a water soluble and tasteless powder you can mix into any kind of liquid. So you’ve got A LOT of options, to say it mildly.