By Pure Matters

The ingredient that gives gingersnap cookies and mulled cider their pungent kick might deserve a spot in your medicine cabinet as well as your kitchen spice rack. In two studies, researchers have found that ginger can ease muscle pain after exercise and soothe joint aches caused by osteoarthritis.

Ginger for Muscles

In one study, 74 volunteers took about a teaspoon of raw or heat-treated ginger daily, or a placebo, for 11 days. Each person then performed 18 slow repetitions of an exercise with a heavy weight designed to make arm muscles called elbow flexors achy and inflamed. Twenty-four hours later, they rated their pain. Compared to people who got the fake ginger, those who'd eaten raw ginger had 25 percent less muscle pain, and those who got heat-treated ginger had 23 percent less pain. Pain was still lower in the ginger groups 48 hours after exercise.

Ginger for Joints

And in another study, 120 people with painful osteoarthritis of the knees took two 15-milligram capsules of a ginger extract, 1,200 milligrams of ibuprofen, or a placebo every day for one month. Researchers found that pain fell about 50 percent for people in the ginger and ibuprofen groups.

How This Kitchen Spice Works

Behind ginger's ache-easing effects are a host of compounds that function like pain-relieving nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs such as ibuprofen) in the body. These include gingerols, shogaols, paradols, and zingerone, which inhibit the activity of pain-provoking, inflammatory enzymes called COX-1 and COX-2. Ginger's zingy compounds also seem to further ease pain by muting the activation of pain-transmitting nerve fibers and blunting pain-receiving nerves in the spinal cord and brain.

Getting More Ginger

Ready to put this spice to work for you? You can, by incorporating ginger into cooking or by taking a supplement. In the first study, volunteers took 2 grams of raw or heat-processed ginger daily -- about the amount in 1 teaspoon of freshly grated ginger or a single 1-inch slice of fresh gingerroot (peel off the root's skin before grating or slicing). Add to salad dressing, toss into fruit salad, or incorporate into stir-fries or fruit desserts (heating the ginger has little effect on its ability to ease pain). You'll find fresh ginger in the produce section of the supermarket. Unpeeled ginger will keep for up to 3 weeks in the refrigerator or for 6 months in the freezer. Or try a supplement; in the knee pain study, volunteers got the equivalent of 30 grams of ginger extract daily. Follow label directions for dosage on individual products.