Can The Keto Diet Help Ease Joint Pain?

The human skeletal system is made up of several joints – 250 to 350 in total — that connect different parts of the body and keep them moving (via Healthline). However, these joints are susceptible to wear and tear, sometimes leading to painful joint conditions (per Medline Plus). According to Cleveland Clinic, chronic joint pains are most commonly associated with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, tendinitis, infections, and injury and overuse.

Besides certain conditions, other risk factors may make some people more likely to experience joint pain, such as being overweight. A healthy diet can play an important role in reaching and maintaining a moderate weight, resulting in less strain on tired joints.

A keto diet might appear at first glance to fit the criteria for a joint-friendly meal plan. There's evidence that keto is an effective way to lose weight, without requiring dieters to count calories (per Healthline). But its effect on joint pain isn't so straightforward.

What you eat matters for joint pain

The keto diet is an eating plan that encourages ketosis, a state where the body burns fat instead of sugar or carbohydrates for energy. To achieve this state, dieters limit their consumption of carbohydrates and increase their consumption of fatty foods.

One 2020 study published in Pain Medicine found that a low-carb diet relieves knee osteoarthritis pain in older adults. While keto is considered a low-carb diet, however, it may not be the right choice for easing joint pain.

WebMD weighed in on the benefits of going keto for rheumatoid arthritis and concluded that the diet's high intake of fat and processed meat may promote inflammation, making arthritis pain worse. Dr. Lona Sandon, an associate professor in the department of clinical nutrition at UT Southwestern, agreed, telling Everyday Health, "[Keto is] not a good choice for people with systemic inflammatory conditions, because it completely goes against the science we know that prevents inflammation in the body."

Besides being heavy in inflammatory red meats and fatty foods, the keto diet is also low in anti-inflammatory fruits and vegetables. Cleveland Clinic suggests replacing the keto diet with the Mediterranean diet or another diet loaded with vegetables, herbs and spices, and omega-3 fatty acids to support painful joints.