Which Protein Causes Joint Pain? Exploring the Link Between Proteins and Discomfort

Joint pain can significantly impact your daily life, and understanding its causes is key to finding relief.

This article explores the role of certain proteins in causing joint discomfort. We'll investigate how specific proteins contribute to inflammation and joint pain, offering insights for those seeking to improve their joint health. While also covering some proteins that have been found to help alleviate your joint issues.

Discover the connection between proteins and joint pain in our journey through the latest research

Understanding Joint Pain

Joint pain manifests in the neck, elbows, shoulders, hands, hips, lower back, knees, and feet. This pain is often described as a sore, throbbing pain that manifests randomly and can make mobility extremely painful and difficult. In most cases, joint pain isn’t serious and will go away alone.

Various forms of inflammatory conditions are often the cause of joint pain…


Osteoarthritis is considered the most common form of arthritis. This degenerative and inflammatory condition wastes the joint cartilage, making mobility difficult and painful. It’s also Studies show that an estimated 528 million people worldwide suffer from osteoarthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that attacks the joints and breaks down the cartilage, resulting in inflammation in the joints. An estimated 17.6 million of the global population suffer from rheumatoid arthritis.

Psoriatic arthritis

Psoriatic arthritis is linked with psoriasis, a chronic skin and nail disease. The condition is somewhat similar to rheumatoid arthritis in symptoms but tends to affect only fewer joints. 

Studies show that psoriatic arthritis affects approximately 6 per 100,000 in the US population and is found in about 20% of psoriasis patients


Gout is an inflammatory type of arthritis caused by an excess of uric acid in the body, which leads to the formation of crystals around the joints, resulting in joint pain and swelling.

Its flareups are characterized by swollen, red, warm, and stiff joints – these symptoms manifest when one consumes certain foods and beverages, medications, instances of injuries, or certain illnesses. Studies show that the number of gout patients worldwide has soared to 53 million in 2019 compared to only 22 million in 1990.


Lupus is an autoimmune disease that causes organ and tissue damage and affects the joints, especially in the fingers and toes, becoming increasingly sensitive, causing pain, numbness, and tingling sensations in response to cold temperatures or emotional stress. Studies show that of the 1.5 million people in the U.S. with lupus, about 95% of them suffer from joint problems.

Injury-Related Causes

Sprains and fractures

Fractures or sprains cause soft tissues like ligaments, tendons, and cartilage in the joints to be torn. Sprains are usually the result of a sports-related injury or fall, causing pain and swelling.

However, they aren’t serious injuries that require immediate medical attention and can usually be treated at home.

On the other hand, fractures occur when one or more of the bones break due to trauma and may even lead to serious problems and long-term consequences like an increased risk of arthritis.

Repetitive strain injuries

Repetitive strain injuries are the damage inflicted on the muscles, tendons, or nerves caused by repetitive motions and constant use of the shoulders, elbows, forearms, wrists, and hands.

People with physically demanding jobs in construction, firefighting, agriculture, fisheries, forestry, and mining are often prone to repetitive strain injuries. Athletes are no exception, either with things like golfers and tennis elbow. When left untreated, it could lead to other conditions like tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and stenosing tenosynovitis.

The Role of Proteins in Joint Pain – Specific Proteins Linked to Joint Pain

Various types of protein can either benefit or negatively impact the joints. In fact, the body produces proteins naturally, and some of these proteins can affect the joints negatively.

As a result, one of the common causes of joint pain is the development of unbalanced proteins that accumulate within the joints, causing pain and discomfort and damaged soft tissues.

Cartilage Oligomeric Matrix Protein (COMP)

Cartilage oligomeric matrix protein (COMP) is an extracellular matrix glycoprotein isolated and characterized in the cartilage. In adult cartilage, COMP is responsible for stabilizing the collagen fiber network. It also facilitates collagen fibrillogenesis and chondrocyte proliferation.

Studies have found that COMP is a biomarker for diagnosing conditions that cause joint pain, like (knee) osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, intervertebral disc degeneration, and psoriatic arthritis, with its serum levels correlating with the radiographic progression of some of these conditions.


Cytokines role in rheumatoid arthritis

Cytokines are small proteins crucial in controlling the growth and activity of other immune system cells and blood cells and are key modulators of inflammation. They are triggered by infections and invading pathogens to stimulate, recruit, and increase immune cells. 

However, certain cytokines such as TNF and IL-1 are key cytokines that play a role in chronic joint inflammation and cause erosive changes in cartilage and bone since they attack chondrocytes. 

Anti-inflammatory cytokines like interleukin-37 (IL-37), on the other hand, are a series of immunoregulatory molecules that control the proinflammatory cytokine response.

Beneficial Proteins


Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body and is an important building block in bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles. It also significantly affects optimal skin, hair, and nail health.

As with all protein structures, collagen is built from 19 amino acids and 8 essential amino acids, which a person must get from outside sources, such as animal products like meats, low-fat dairy, whey, casein powders, and plant-based protein sources. Proline and glycine, in particular, are integral to wound healing, antioxidative reactions, and immune responses, making them vital for joint health. 

Studies show that collagen supplements, particularly type II collagen, help improve symptoms of osteoarthritis, reduce overall joint pain, and promote easier mobility. Meanwhile, certain researchers have found that joints lacking in collagen are more likely to develop osteoarthritis faster.


Scientists have identified a key protein, sulfatase-2, that plays a crucial role in the damage caused by rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic disease where the immune system attacks joint tissues.

Sulfatase-2 is an enzyme, a type of protein that catalyzes specific biochemical reactions.

This discovery, published in the journal Cellular & Molecular Immunology, sheds light on the molecular processes driving inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis. The research indicates that inhibiting sulfatase-2 could reduce the inflammatory effects of TNF-alpha, a main driver of rheumatoid arthritis.

This finding opens the possibility for new treatment approaches that target sulfatase-2, potentially addressing shortcomings of current therapies.

Dietary Proteins That Benefit Joint Health

You can include these proteins in your diet:

Soy Protein

Compared to other plant proteins, soy protein has a richer protein content and is one of the few plant-based options to have a complete amino-acid profile. It’s also more affordable than some protein types and is easy to add to one’s diet.

Studies show that soy products like tofu and tempeh have been found to reduce pain and inflammation in the joints and increase immunity.

Egg Protein


Eggs are nutrient-dense and a complete protein source having a complete amino acid profile. Both the albumen (egg white) and the yolk contain proteins, but while the yolk has the more significant protein concentration, the amount of egg white is greater, so it provides more. 

Eggs contain phospholipids and important antioxidants like lutein and zeaxanthin, which reverse the effects of inflammation, significantly benefitting joint health.

Rice Protein

Rice protein is a lesser-known protein isolate. When extracted through alkaline or α-amylase, it reduces both cholesterol and triacylglycerol levels in the liver. However, rice protein is not considered a complete protein compared to other plant proteins since it has low levels of amino acids lysine and threonine.

Research shows that rice protein exerts an anti-inflammatory effect by suppressing the NF-κB pathway. Another study showed that it exerted anti-inflammatory effects in LPS-stimulated RAW264.7 macrophages and can potentially treat inflammation-related conditions.

Hemp Protein

Hemp protein is rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which help maintain good cardiovascular health, maintain lean body mass, and promote optimal brain function. 

The amount of omega-3s in hemp seeds and its optimal omega-3 to omega-6 ratio can help reduce inflammation in the joints and help improve some people's symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, like joint stiffness and pain.

Proteins to Avoid

These proteins can trigger inflammation responses when consumed:

Milk Protein

Casein is considered the most important protein component in milk. It’s a rich, complete source of essential amino acids, has a high bioavailability, is richer in calcium than whey, and has bioactive peptides that help lower blood pressure.

However, according to studies, casein protein can cause intestinal inflammation and exacerbate gastrointestinal symptoms. Those with casein allergies can also experience inflammation; in some cases, joint pain was reported.

Pea Protein

Pea protein, typically sourced from yellow peas, is also one of the few plant-based protein sources that contain all nine essential amino acids. Pea protein also works best for almost any diet since it’s naturally vegan and hypoallergenic. 

However, some pea protein brands contain high amounts of sodium, which can trigger an inflammatory response and result in tissue inflammation. Pea protein also contains purines, which break down into uric acid, forming joint crystals and causing inflammation and pain.

Treatment and Management of Protein-Related Joint Pain

Taking Over-the-Counter Medications

Studies reveal that taking over-the-counter pain relievers, NSAIDs, and prescription drugs such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), duloxetine (Cymbalta), and ibuprofen (Advil) have shown effective analgesic relief for people who have mild to moderate flare-ups of arthritic joint pain.

Dietary Supplements

Dietary supplements contain specific blends of ingredients that can effectively reduce joint inflammation and benefit joint health. Supplements typically provide longer-lasting relief compared to OTC medications.

Physio Flex Pro – Relieving One Joint Problem At A Time

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One such supplement, Physio Flex Pro, is a joint support complex that does both – combating the effects of inflammation on the joints and restoring mobility, flexibility, and comfort.

Physio Flex Pro is a masterful blend of joint-beneficial substances like bromelain, chondroitin, and selenium citrate, which help restore movement, repair connective tissues, and keep the joints flexible and lubricated.

At the same time, the potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of ginger, glucosamine, turmeric, and methylsulfonylmethane offer cartilage protection and strengthen bone and joint health.

Eating A Healthy Diet

Eating a diet full of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant foods prevents factors that contribute to inflamed joints. Eating lean meats, oily fish (e.g., mackerel, salmon or sardines), seeds, legumes, nuts, garlic, and dark leafy greens works wonders in preventing inflammation and soothe affected joints.

Foods laden with excess fats, sugars, grains, and other carbohydrates can directly trigger pro-inflammatory substances and indirectly result in unhealthy weight gain, which can stress the joints, disrupt the gut microbiome balance, and trigger the inflammatory process.

Doing Regular Exercise

Exercising while suffering from joint inflammation helps restore and strengthen knee joint function. Low-impact exercises like brisk walking, jogging, cycling, and swimming can maintain knee health and strength. Intensive leg exercises like squats and lunges (and their variations) help build leg muscle and reduce knee stiffness while bending.

Studies show that exercising controls joint swelling and pain increases the lubrication of the joint's cartilage, strengthens the muscles around affected joints, and decreases bone density loss.

Stress Management

The body’s stress response fires up the immune system’s inflammatory response when under stress. In turn, the effects of inflammation can also aggravate stress.  Stress can cause tension in the muscles, which can amplify arthritic pain. 

Relaxation exercises such as deep breathing, yoga, meditation, tai chi, exercise, and prayer can relieve joint tension. Even something simple as sitting up quietly while breathing deeply can already soothe the body’s nerves.

FAQ Section

1. How do proteins contribute to the development of arthritis?

Protein can either benefit or negatively impact the joints. The disturbed balance of inflammatory cytokine proteins like interleukin-1 (IL-1), IL-12, IL-18, and TNFα starts a chain of effects that leads to arthritis symptoms like joint pain, stiffness, bone density loss, and cartilage damage.

2. Can changing my diet reduce joint pain?

Switching to a better, healthier diet can greatly affect one’s joint health. Eating anti-inflammatory and antioxidant-rich foods and avoiding highly processed and sugared ones have significantly improved joint function.

3. Are plant-based proteins better for joint health than animal proteins?

Animal and plant-based proteins each have their own pros and cons. While it’s true that animal proteins like whey/milk and collagen proteins offer complete amino acid profiles, plant-based proteins accommodate more diet types – it’s suitable for vegans and vegetarians and those on keto and paleo diets and have lesser instances of inflammation and other side effects.

4. How do I know if my joint pain is related to protein intake?

Taking proteins like casein or pea, or eating too much red meat could increase the risk of joint pain. Moreover, nutritionists don’t prescribe protein bulking, regardless of the sources, for people with arthritis, gout, and inflamed joints.

5. Can supplements help in managing protein-related joint pain?

Taking dietary supplements lets you enjoy the synergistic effects of joint-beneficial ingredients, working for long-term pain relief, promoting better joint function, and improving overall joint and bone health. They also provide other health benefits.


Certain proteins like cytokines cause inflammation, prolong arthritic joint pain and stiffness, and even damage cartilage and other soft tissues. Improper protein intake can also contribute to the incidence of these symptoms.

The best course of action is to opt for dietary protein options that satisfy both your protein needs and joint health, all while observing a healthy diet and lifestyle. Watching your protein intake is also important, especially if you already have arthritis.

If you’re unsure how to manage your protein consumption while having joint pain, consult your trusted dietitian on how to balance intakes or seek treatment options from your healthcare provider.

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