Feeling that your hot-weather fun is being clouded over by discomfort these days? You’re not alone: In a recent survey of women over age 45, 81 percent of respondents said joint pain hindered their ability to stay active and 90 percent said pain flare-ups dragged down their mood.
Most of us respond to these aches by reaching for over-the-counter or prescription painkillers, but it’s long been known that painkillers raise your risk of intestinal bleeding.
And now, studies at Vanderbilt University in Nashville suggest that they can also slow tissue healing and deplete the immune system, making it four times harder for you to recover if you get sick. “Surprisingly, most of our immune cells are made in the lining of the digestive tract,” explains physician Fred Pescatore, MD. “Painkillers damage that lining, making repair and recovery slower.” The good news: You don’t need meds to enjoy a pain-free summer! These study-backed remedies can help you feel better — fast.
Best Topical Fix — Comfrey cream
Massaging comfrey cream into achy joints cuts stiffness and pain by 33 percent in the first hour and by 95 percent in four days, making this side effect–free remedy twice as effective as OTC medications, suggests research in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. Study co-author and pharmacist Christiane Staiger, PhD, explains that comfrey cream’s active ingredients (allantoin and rosmarinic acid) — calm pain nerves, reduce joint inflammation, and heal damaged tissues.
To Do: Gently massage 1⁄2 tsp. of comfrey cream like this one from Traumaplant ($19.95, Amazon) into each sore spot three times daily — ideally, first thing in the morning, once midday, and once more at bedtime so your joints get a steady trickle of comfrey’s active ingredients.
Best Moving Remedy — Tai chi
Going for a brisk 20-minute walk each day can cut pain and stiffness in half, but if your joints are really sore, daily jaunts can make you miserable. To the rescue: tai chi.
In a study at Tufts University, women who practiced tai chi twice weekly reported a 60 percent drop in joint pain and an 80 percent reduction in stiffness — better results than walks provide. “The gentle, flowing movements of tai chi improve circulation, shuttling healing nutrients to injured joints and flushing pain-triggering inflammation,” explains Paul Lam, MD, author of The Tai Chi Way ($22.95, Amazon).
To learn tai chi in your home, check these out on YouTube. Hint: The martial art impacts energy levels the same way brisk strolls do, so if walking energizes you, practice tai chi in the morning; if walks help you feel sleepy, practice in the evening.
Best Supplement — This Healing Duo
“Curcumin, a turmeric extract, reduces inflammation and heals damaged muscle and joint tissues while the Ayurvedic herb boswellia dials down the body’s production of pain-triggering compounds called leukotrienes,” says Robin Miller, MD, co-author of Healed! ($12.95, Amazon).
No wonder 12 studies suggest that pairing these two nutrients provides 25 percent more pain relief than prescription painkillers, alleviating even chronic pain for 93 percent of women in as little as one week. A remedy that contains both healing compounds: Terry Naturally Curamin Extra Strength ($19.96, Amazon)
Tip: Curcumin and boswellia are fat-soluble, so taking them with meals will double your absorption.
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.