A popular dietary supplement with countless health benefits is omega-3. For knee pain, it can help reduce soreness, inflammation, and protect your knee joint.
Omega-3 fatty acids are derived from the diet or through fish oil supplements. It’s a highly recommended supplement by physicians for lowering cholesterol levels and managing cardiovascular disease.
But recently, omega-3 fatty acids have been garnering interest in treating knee pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis and other joint diseases.
Below, you’ll learn how this supplement helps knee pain and how to take it safely. Here are the topics we explore – tap on any of them to learn more:
- How do omega-3s help joint pain?
- Omega-3 combined with vitamin D – is it better?
- Side effects
- Omega-3 vs other treatments for knee pain
How do omega-3 fatty acids work for knee pain?
Every cell in our body requires omega-3 fatty acids to form a protective membrane around it. We can obtain them from food or through supplements.
And even though their role in cardiovascular diseases is well known, the same can’t be said about their mechanism for treating knee pain.
Researchers think it has to do with the anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3.
Omega-3 fatty acids can control inflammation. Scientists believe that’s how it can help control knee osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and other inflammatory joint diseases. (1)
However, the clinical research available on omega-3 fatty acids for knee osteoarthritis has reported mixed results.
Some studies show that fish oils can reduce knee pain, morning stiffness, and swelling. While others reported knee pain and other symptoms had no significant changes. (2)
That’s why scientists agree that further studies are needed to confirm whether omega 3 fatty acids can effectively reduce knee OA pain.
Yet, omega-3 supplementation can enhance blood flow.
This is crucial for treating knee joint conditions, like knee osteoarthritis.
This condition is more common in the elderly. And one consequence of aging is that it damages our blood vessels, which in turn reduces blood flow to our cells and tissues.
The problem is that the inadequate blood supply doesn’t provide enough nutrients to the joint cartilage and surrounding tissues. Which in turn can worsen knee osteoarthritis symptoms. (3)
However, omega-3 fatty acids prevent this by stimulating the dilation of blood vessels and improving the supply of oxygen and nutrients to joint tissues. Thus preventing the worsening of osteoarthritis symptoms. (4)
What about omega-3 with vitamin D for knee pain?
Vitamin D is well-established as a supplement for maintaining healthy bones. But, its role in knee joint health is still a topic of debate. Studies have reported mixed results on its benefits in knee pain.
For example, a 5-year study on vitamin D and omega 3 fatty acid combination treatment for knee pain failed to show any improvement in knee pain symptoms, compared to the placebo group. (5)
But other studies show that when vitamin D was supplemented alone, it can reduce knee osteoarthritis symptoms. (6)
Conclusion: Further studies comparing the benefits of vitamin D alone, and in combination with omega-3 fatty acids are needed.
Dosage of omega-3 for knee pain relief
For knee pain, the recommended dosage of omega-3 fatty acids for knee OA is 600 mg per day. This dose is present in 1000 – 1200 mg of fish oil. (7)
Studies show it’s safe and beneficial for knee pain to take 1200-2400 mg of fish oil daily. (7)
Sources of omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3s can be derived naturally from foods or fish oil supplements. Foods rich in these compounds include:
- Fish and seafood such as salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, and herring.
- Seeds and nuts such as walnuts, chia seeds, and flaxseed.
- Plant oils such as canola oil, soybean oil, and flaxseed oil.
- Cod liver oil, which also has high amounts of vitamin A and D.
Side effects of omega-3 supplements
Omega-3s are safe when taken in the recommended dosage. But, exceeding the recommended dose can result in some adverse health outcomes.
Side effects are usually mild and temporary, the most common include (8):
- Fishy taste.
- Stomach upset.
Please keep in mind that taking omega-3s from multiple servings of fish can increase your risk of mercury toxicity.
So, if you want to get them from your diet, it’s best to do so through different sources. This can ensure you get the required dose without increasing your risk of mercury poisoning.
Omega-3 vs other treatments for knee pain
Besides omega 3, there are many other treatments and supplements for knee pain management. Some common treatment options for knee pain are:
- Physical exercise.
- Heat and ice therapy.
- Painkillers, such as NSAIDs.
However, rather than compare one treatment to another, the best approach is a combination of two or more treatments.
Combining supplements with physical exercise, weight loss, and other treatments will provide maximal relief from knee pain.
Yet, if you’re not sure what treatments to do, please consult with your physical therapist and/or doctor.
Related: Best supplements for knee pain.
How much fish oil is needed for joint pain?
For knee pain, 1200 to 2400 mg of fish oil can help relieve pain, swelling, and morning stiffness. (7)
Which omega-3 is best for knee pain?
Two omega-3s -eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)- reduce inflammation and are best for knee pain relief. (1)
Can omega-3 cause joint pain?
In rare cases, omega-3 may cause temporary joint fatigue as a side effect, which could cause mild joint pain. (8)
Conclusion: Do Omega-3s provide relief from knee pain?
Omega-3s have anti-inflammatory properties, which can prevent the breakdown of knee joint cartilage. They also increase blood flow to joint tissues, which adds to their ability to halt cartilage degeneration.
600 mg of omega 3 fatty acids per day is the recommended dosage for treating knee pain. But if you’re not sure how much to take or whether you should take it at all, please consult with your doctor.
- Calder, Philip C. “Omega-3 fatty acids and inflammatory processes.” Nutrients 2.3 (2010): 355-374.
- Senftleber, Ninna K., et al. “Marine oil supplements for arthritis pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials.” Nutrients 9.1 (2017): 42.
- Conaghan, Philip G., Heikki Vanharanta, and Paul A. Dieppe. “Is progressive osteoarthritis an atheromatous vascular disease?.” Annals of the rheumatic diseases 64.11 (2005): 1539-1541.
- Zanetti, Michela, et al. “Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids: structural and functional effects on the vascular wall.” BioMed research international 2015 (2015).
- MacFarlane, Lindsey A et al. “The Effects of Vitamin D and Marine Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation on Chronic Knee Pain in Older US Adults: Results From a Randomized Trial.” Arthritis & rheumatology (Hoboken, N.J.) vol. 72,11 (2020): 1836-1844.
- Gao, Xu-Ren et al. “The effect of vitamin D supplementation on knee osteoarthritis: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.” International journal of surgery (London, England) vol. 46 (2017): 14-20.
- Maroon, Joseph Charles, and Jeffrey W. Bost. “ω-3 Fatty acids (fish oil) as an anti-inflammatory: an alternative to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for discogenic pain.” Surgical neurology 65.4 (2006): 326-331.
- Krupa K, Fritz K, Parmar M. Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK564314/