Nutrition and Joint Health: Anti-Inflammatory Foods That Ease Joint Pain

Learn more about which foods can help reduce inflammation that contributes to joint pain.

Published Date: Dec 12, 2023
Table of Contents

Joint pain is an all-too-common problem, one that affects one-third of Americans at any given time. Whether the result of a chronic condition like arthritis or an issue like bursitis, joint pain can take a big toll on your quality of life and limit your ability to do basic tasks. 

At Hinge Health, we know the power of movement and exercise to relieve joint pain and get people back to doing what they love. But we know other lifestyle factors can play a big role, too. Many Hinge Health members have questions about how their diet can impact their joint health along with pain and stiffness. 

Read on to learn more about nutrition’s role in joint health, including foods — specifically those that inhibit inflammation — that have been shown to help ease joint pain.

Tap into pain relief. Anytime, anywhere with our app.

Get exercises from a licensed physical therapist and more to relieve your pain. All right from your phone. At $0 cost to you.
Start your app tour

Our Hinge Health Experts

Carissa Lane, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist
Dr. Lane is a Hinge Health Physical Therapist with special interests in healthy aging, lifestyle medicine, gait, and balance.
Jonathan Lee, MD, MBA
Orthopedic Surgeon and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Lee is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and an Associate Medical Director at Hinge Health.
Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Peterson is a Hinge Health physical therapist who focuses on developing clinical exercise therapy programs and member education.

Understanding Inflammation

Inflammation can be a vital and healthy function in the body. When you’re fighting an infection or nursing an injury like say a sprained ankle, you need your body to trigger your immune system to send out inflammatory cells to help attack that infection or repair damaged tissue so you can feel better and heal. This is known as acute inflammation — your inflammatory response is turned on in reaction to a known trigger and, in most cases, it shuts back off when its job is done.

Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, occurs when the body triggers an inflammatory response when there’s no threat that needs to be attacked. The body can usually tolerate some low level chronic inflammation that's normal in everyday life. But if inflammation levels are chronically high, it can irritate the body’s healthy tissue (including cartilage, bones, tendons, and ligaments) and nerves, causing symptoms like pain, swelling, and stiffness. 

Joint pain that isn’t the result of an injury (or lingers long after the affected area has healed) is often triggered by chronic inflammation. In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, which is a chronic inflammatory disease, the immune system targets joint tissue, causing pain and mobility issues. 

A range of different stressors, from life challenges to diet to changes in the weather, can trigger chronic inflammation. “Among the many stressors in our life that generate inflammation, the food we consume is a very tangible thing over which we have control,“ says Carissa Lane, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health, who has a passion for nutrition and lifestyle medicine and frequently discusses these topics with Hinge Health members. 

How Foods Can Affect Joint Health

Overall, eating an anti-inflammatory diet seems to help when it comes to preventing inflammatory arthritis, the joint inflammation caused by an overactive immune system. Research has also shown that it’s made people less prone to conditions like gout and other types of arthritis. 

If you have existing joint problems, however, the benefit of eating an anti-inflammatory diet is less clear, according to Harvard Health. While some studies show low-level evidence of improvement compared to a standard Western diet, other research has demonstrated a significant reduction in joint pain with anti-inflammatory diets. 

That said, if you’re coping with joint pain that is related to chronic inflammation, changes to your diet may help by switching off the inflammatory process and protecting your body from harm. As the authors of an article on managing rheumatoid arthritis with dietary interventions concluded, incorporating anti-inflammatory foods in a daily meal plan “may not be a cure, but it may help to reduce disease activity, delay disease progression, and reduce joint damage.” 

And keep in mind: The foods that make up an anti-inflammatory diet are good to eat no matter what given their high nutritional content. Plus, eating a well-rounded, balanced diet can have a positive affect on your whole body and overall health. “What you’re doing for your joints could also be helpful for other parts of your body, including your heart, your cognition, your gut health, and your skin quality,” says Dr. Lane. 

What to Eat for an Anti-Inflammatory Diet 

While physical therapists aren’t nutrition specialists, at Hinge Health, we take a holistic approach to care because our body works as an ecosystem. What we eat, how we move, the social connections we make, and how much sleep we get all contribute to how our body performs on a day-to-day basis. We encourage members toward healthier eating patterns that provide good nutrition and energy, so they can be active and do what they love. 

To achieve that goal, Dr. Lane promotes a whole-food and plant-based way of eating to help decrease inflammation. And remember: Plant-based doesn’t mean vegetarian; it just means making sure you eat a lot of veggies, fruits, legumes, nuts, and whole grains relative to meat, dairy, and processed foods. Making dietary changes isn’t always easy — one strategy Dr. Lane recommends is “crowding out” your plate with more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains so there’s less room for processed foods, including sweets. “By filling our plate with healthier foods first, we are more inclined to eat better overall, rather than focusing on giving up certain foods or a restrictive eating mentality,” she adds. 

Similar to the Mediterranean diet, an anti-inflammatory way of eating emphasizes natural foods that have been identified as helping to control inflammation and limits processed foods, which often contain “pro-inflammatory” chemicals that can flare joint pain. What’s more, many of these natural foods are also high in nutrients, including calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D, that help strengthen the bones that support joints. 

Some inflammation-fighting foods include:

  • Sources of omega-3 fatty acids (omega-3s), which dampen inflammation, such as oily fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines, cod, and anchovies. Walnuts, chia seeds (they have the highest level of omega-3s of any seed), and oils like avocado, olive, and flaxseed are all high in omega-3s. “I’ll create dressings with olive oil and cook with avocado oil — it has a higher heat temperature, so I use it instead of butter or vegetable oils,” says Dr. Lane. “Those are typically refined oils that can cause inflammation.” 

  • Lean protein, such as poultry; white fish like cod, halibut, tilapia, and bass; and plant-based proteins like beans, peas, and lentils. Protein is key for building healthy, strong connective tissue that protects joints by reducing friction and acting as a shock absorber. “Lean protein also has higher concentrations of omega-3s compared to fatty meats like steak,” says Dr. Lane. 

  • Vegetables are anti-inflammatory superstars due to their high antioxidant content. Standouts include broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, and cauliflower, which offer another benefit — a natural compound called sulforaphane that research shows may slow cartilage changes in osteoarthritis by blocking the inflammatory process. Brightly colored vegetables and fruits, specifically green, orange, yellow, red, and purple, contain many beneficial plant compounds, called phytochemicals. Eating a wide variety of veggies supplies important antioxidants and phytochemicals that can help to reduce inflammation. “Eat the rainbow,” advises Dr. Lane.

  • Fruit is loaded with potent antioxidant vitamins (like vitamin C) and compounds (like lycopene, found in watermelon, tomatoes, apricots, pink grapefruits, and pink guavas) that reduce the changes caused by inflammation. One of Dr. Lane’s favorites: blueberries, which are chock full of vitamins C and K and phytochemical compounds called flavonoids that fight inflammation. They also contain chemicals that regulate your immune system, which may reduce chronic inflammation. 

  • Water helps lower inflammation by flushing toxins from your body. It also helps keep your joints healthy and lubricated: When you’re dehydrated, your body may struggle to create synovial fluid. This thick liquid cushions your bones, so they don’t come in contact, preventing friction and pain. There’s no hard-and-fast rule for how much water you need to drink each day. A general recommendation is to aim to drink half your body weight in ounces. (That means a 150-pound person should sip 75 ounces daily.)  

The Power of Movement to Reduce Joint Inflammation

“One of the best things you can do if you have joint pain is to keep moving,” says Dr. Lane. “This improves blood flow to the joints, which can help decrease inflammation.”  Cardio, strength training, and stretching are all important for reducing inflammation and improving joint health.


Going for a walk is one of the most easily accessible ways to fit exercise into your day. And, according to a study on inflammation and exercise, even a 20-minute walk at moderate intensity can lower the body’s inflammatory response. 

Strength Training

Strength training discourages chronic inflammation, in part by reducing certain fat cells that put out signals to increase inflammation. If you’re worried that strength training will make your joint pain worse, think again. It can actually have the opposite effect. In most cases, strength training can help ease joint pain over time. If you're not sure how to get started, you can work with a physical therapist to create a plan that’s both safe and challenging. You can see a physical therapist in person or use a program like Hinge Health to access a PT via telehealth/video visit.


Add 10-15 minutes of general stretching to your daily routine, Dr. Lane advises. “The movement snack breaks we promote at Hinge Health can help maintain range of motion in your joints and improve the fluidity of your movements,” she says. They can also be inflammation busters, according to a recent review of studies. Researchers found that stretching, as well as exercises with a prominent stretching component, such as yoga and tai chi, decrease inflammation by reducing levels of proinflammatory cytokines.

PT Tip: Cut Back on Sugar

Another way to reduce inflammation: decrease sugar consumption. “There’s a ton of hidden sugars in most processed foods and that can be a huge driver for systemic inflammation in the body,” says Dr. Lane. (Specifically, processed sugars trigger the release of “inflammatory messengers” known as cytokines that can trigger or heighten inflammation.) 

Check food labels for added sugars (look for ingredients that end in “ose,” such as sucrose and dextrose). Try cutting back on sugary drinks, candy, and processed food. 

How Hinge Health Can Help You

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.

Through our program, you can access therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you.

See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

$0 Cost to you

Looking for pain relief? Check if your employer or health plan covers our program

Join more than 800K members and over 1,700 companies that trust Hinge Health to get relief.


  1. Suk, M. (2019, February 20). Is your diet making your arthritis worse? Geisinger. 

  2. Khanna, S., Jaiswal, K. S., & Gupta, B. (2017). Managing Rheumatoid Arthritis with Dietary Interventions. Frontiers in Nutrition, 4(52). doi:10.3389/fnut.2017.00052

  3. Bilodeau, K. (2022, February 1). An anti-inflammatory diet may be good for your joints. Harvard Health. 

  4. Diet Review: Anti-Inflammatory Diet. (2021, October). Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. 

  5. Schönenberger, K. A., Schüpfer, A.-C., Gloy, V. L., Hasler, P., Stanga, Z., Kaegi-Braun, N., & Reber, E. (2021). Effect of Anti-Inflammatory Diets on Pain in Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Nutrients, 13(12), 4221. doi:10.3390/nu13124221

  6. How To Relieve Arthritis Pain With Omega-3s. (2022, January 11). Cleveland Clinic. 

  7. Diet Review: Mediterranean Diet. (2018, December 12). Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. 

  8. Bustamante, M. F., Agustín-Perez, M., Cedola, F., Coras, R., Narasimhan, R., Golshan, S., & Guma, M. (2020). Design of an anti-inflammatory diet (ITIS diet) for patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Contemporary Clinical Trials Communications, 17, 100524. doi:10.1016/j.conctc.2020.100524

  9. Król, M., Kupnicka, P., Bosiacki, M., & Chlubek, D. (2022). Mechanisms Underlying Anti-Inflammatory and Anti-Cancer Properties of Stretching—A Review. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 23(17), 10127. doi:10.3390/ijms231710127

  10. Foods that fight inflammation. (2018, November 7). Harvard Health; Harvard Health.

  11. Genel, F., Kale, M., Pavlovic, N., Flood, V. M., Naylor, J. M., & Adie, S. (2020). Health effects of a low-inflammatory diet in adults with arthritis: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Nutritional Science, 9. doi:10.1017/jns.2020.31

  12. Dimitrov, S., Hulteng, E., & Hong, S. (2017). Inflammation and exercise: Inhibition of monocytic intracellular TNF production by acute exercise via β 2 -adrenergic activation. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 61, 60–68. doi:10.1016/j.bbi.2016.12.017

  13. Davidson, R. K., Jupp, O., de Ferrars, R., Kay, C. D., Culley, K. L., Norton, R., Driscoll, C., Vincent, T. L., Donell, S. T., Bao, Y., & Clark, I. M. (2013). Sulforaphane represses matrix-degrading proteases and protects cartilage from destruction in vitro and in vivo. Arthritis and Rheumatism, 65(12), 3130–3140. doi:10.1002/art.38133

  14. Yokose, C., McCormick, N., Lu, N., Joshi, A. D., Curhan, G., & Choi, H. K. (2022). Adherence to 2020 to 2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the Risk of New-Onset Female Gout. JAMA Internal Medicine, 182(3), 254 - 264. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2021.7419