If you’ve ever walked across the street, ran a 5k, danced or thrown a baseball, you’ve used joints in your body.
Your joints are the connection between two bones in your body. They are a smooth tissue (cartilage) that’s meant to keep your bones from rubbing together and causing friction. Every time you bend your leg to jump, for instance, you’re using the cartilage in your knee to cushion the landing and prevent bones from colliding.
Because of how often they’re used, keeping joints healthy is important as we get older. Worn down joints can lead to a number of chronic pain issues, including arthritis.
Keeping joints healthy is about taking smart, preventive steps throughout your life. By taking the right steps early on, you can help avoid costly hospital visits later in life that may result from not properly caring for joints. Here are a few tips.
Weight is an important factor in joint health. More body weight means that there is more pressure on the joints in your body when you move. Especially in the lower body (knees, ankles, lower back), the stress that can build up over time from being overweight can put a strain on your joints.
There are a few areas to pay attention to with regard to weight and joint health:
Exercising is a great way to keep weight off and help your joints stay active. In fact, too much inactivity can actually make your joints stiff. Some of the best exercises and activities for joint health include:
- • Stretching: Before, during and after exercise. Stretching can also be an exercise on its own
- • Walking and hiking
- • Low-impact aerobics: Biking, swimming
- • Yoga
Exercise that helps build muscles gives the joints much-needed support. Your muscles can take some of the strain off joints, but only if they’re strong enough. In particular, ab and core muscles help build up balance and limit the risk of accidents or falls which might cause joint damage.
Weight training is difficult to get involved in for some people, and it can be risky to both joints and other areas of the body if you don’t know how to do it properly. Some people might benefit from a personal trainer, or taking advice from your doctor or physical therapist.
What we eat and drink plays a large role in maintaining our weight. A few things are important here:
- • Types of food: You need both calcium (for bones) and protein (for muscles) in your diet, plus lots of vitamin D. Most dairy products contain calcium and vitamin D, and seafood and lean meats are good sources of protein. Limit sweets and fatty foods, and try to have less caffeine (it can make your bones weaker).
- • Portion size: Try to cut down on portion sizes if you’re worried about weight. Some people find that changing from three big meals a day to several smaller ones helps keep metabolism flowing.
- • Supplements: Many people take supplements to help add calcium, protein or vitamin D.
Whether you’re exercising or sitting still, your posture has a big impact on your long-term joint health. Slouching while you sit or lifting heavy objects with your back instead of your legs are examples of bad posture – they can put your joints at major risk.
Try to sit up straight and keep your back straight while walking or running. Lift with your leg muscles, and stretch beforehand if you’re worried about straining yourself.
Simple Pain Relief
There will be times where joint pain is unavoidable, but treating the pain right away can help prevent long term problems. A few of the simplest ways to relieve pain and swelling in joints include:
- • Ice: Apply for around 20 minutes to painful areas, usually wrapped in a towel.
- • Massage: Massage can be great for overall stress, but it also helps relieve tension on joints and muscles.
- • Warm bath
- • Painkillers: Ibuprofen and other over-the-counter pain relievers help limit pain and swelling.
- • Stretching
Brady Barker, MD
I received an undergraduate degree in molecular biology from Brigham Young University and thereafter attended the Medical College of Wisconsin. I find satisfaction in the process of putting broken people back together and relieving them of pain. Helping patients recover and enjoy life again is a gratifying experience for me in my profession. My approach to patient interaction is to consider each individual’s case, treat him or her individually and maintain open communication.
- “Caring for Your Joints.” WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/arthritis/caring-your-joints#1
- “51 Ways to Be Good to Your Joints.” Arthritis Foundation. http://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/pain-management/joint-protection/joint-health.php