Most of you probably do not think much about your knees, back, shoulders, and other joints until they become painful or stop working properly.
Joints are the places in our bodies where bones meet. They roll, glide, rotate or bend like a simple hinge to let you run, jump and do the chicken dance. Joints come in different sizes, shapes and varieties, but all of them are susceptible to wear and tear, damage and arthritis.
Whether you’re in the afflicted minority or the lucky majority, it’s important to take care of your body and protect your joints to maximise their use, mobility and function for as long as you can. But it’s not just about being able to coax your joints into action in the years to come – preventing or limiting the amount of pain or discomfort you feel today is a plus, too.
Here are our top tips to love your joints, which can: improve your range of movement, reduce joint swelling, ease pain, and improve your quality of life – just click on a topic for more information
Weight bearing joints, such as your knees, hips and back have to support some, if not all, of your body weight. Being overweight puts added pressure and stress on your joints causing joint injury and wear and tear. Research has shown that for every pound you put on, you place four times more stress on your knees. If you know your weight is higher than it should be, create a sensible, healthy diet and exercise plan to reduce it.
Movement is good for your joints. Doing some form of exercise daily will have many benefits such as:
- Improving the range of movement in your joints
- Encouraging blood flow to the area, which brings nutrients with it
- Stimulating your body and mind
- Supporting your joints with greater muscle strength
- Assisting in weight loss, which places less stress on your weight bearing joints.
Have a balance of strengthening, aerobic and flexibility/stretching exercises. Around 150 minutes a week is recommended to keep joints healthy and muscles strong.
Add balancing exercises to your routine.
Stretching keeps your muscles and ligaments strong and flexible, making it one of the best ways to maintain joint health
Opt for low impact exercise such as walking, swimming, cycling, pilates, yoga, gardening and Tai Chi. These minimise the strain placed on the joints and surrounding tissues. Choose things that give you pleasure, so you will be more likely to stick to them.
If you play sports like football, tennis or netball, they involve lots of turning and twisting which can damage the ligaments. Make sure you have good preparation such as muscle strengthening and jumping and landing techniques.
It’s normal to feel some discomfort in muscles if you’re not used to exercise, but if you feel pain in your joints and they still hurt two hours afterwards, you have overdone it. Ease up a bit or try a different type of exercise to suit you. Remember: exercise should be enjoyable, not painful.
Muscles act as both cushions and shock absorbers for your joints, so without muscle tissue your joints take a pounding. Muscles also provide support, stability and guidance through the range of motion of the joint.
Weight training exercises help build muscle and keep your muscles and surrounding ligaments strong. That way, your joints don’t have to do all the work. Weight bearing exercise also stimulates the bones to grow stronger, great for help preventing osteoporosis. You don’t have to lift heavy weights, but a programme with weight bearing and strengthening exercises to maintain muscle strength around the joints helps to protect them from wear and tear and injury.
Make sure your exercise routine includes activities that strengthen your core. That includes your chest, back, and abdomen. Stronger abs and back muscles help you keep your balance and prevent falls that can damage your joints.
If you have not trained before, it is worthwhile joining a gym, getting a personal trainer to show you the best exercises and correct technique for you so you don’t injure yourself inadvertently.
Eating a healthy diet is good for your joints, because it helps build strong bones and muscles.
For your bones, make sure you get enough calcium every day. You can do this by eating foods such as milk, yogurt, broccoli, kale, spinach, figs, and fortified foods like soy or almond milk.
For your muscles, you need to get enough protein. Exactly how much you need depends on your age, sex, and how active you are. Good sources include lean meats, seafood, beans, legumes, soy products, and nuts. Go for a variety.
You also need Vitamin D to keep your bones and joints in good health. Your body produces Vitamin D when it’s exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium from the foods you eat. Dairy products, many cereals, soy milk, and almond milk are fortified with Vitamin D. You can ask your doctor about the proper amount of Vitamin D and ways you can get it.
Oranges may also give your joints a healthy boost. Some studies suggest that Vitamin C and other antioxidants can help keep your joints healthy.
Cut down on caffeine as this has been shown to weaken bones, and weaker bones lead to weaker joints.
You may consider supplements such as glucosamine/chondroitin, turmeric, and fish oil.
Food rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish and nuts, can help decrease inflammation of the joints.
Strive to eat food in as close to its natural state as possible. Try and avoid processed foods as these contain ingredients that can increase inflammation in your body, including your joints.
Stay hydrated – nearly 70% of our body weight is water – dehydration can lead to achy joints and make you feel exhausted.
Couch potatoes, computer addicts and all who remain glued to a chair all day long have a high risk for joint pain. Less movement means more stiffness in your joints – they won’t have much motivation to strive for full mobility if they are never called upon to do so. Without being fully extended, they will try and get away with as little work as possible. Make sure you change positions frequently, take regular breaks and use this time to stretch and/or go for a short walk.
Maintaining good posture is an easy way to keep muscles and bones strain free. When we sit and stand our head should be balanced on our spine, which in itself should be straight, with our shoulders in line with our hips. This can take some effort, as slouching and slumping, especially when sitting, seem to be the normal stance now.
Posture is also important when lifting and carrying. For example, if you use a backpack, be sure to put it over both shoulders instead of slinging it over one. Being lopsided puts more stress on your joints. When lifting, use the biggest muscles in your body by bending at your knees instead of bending your back.
You don’t want to put undue strain on your joints, but you don’t want to under use them either. Try to maintain a nice, even balance between motion and rest. Work too hard for too long without a break, and your joints are going to stiffen up. They don’t like constant use, overuse or abuse either.
Some exercises and activities might just be too tough for your joints to handle at first, especially if it is a new activity. Go slow. Slowly increase the demands on your body. Modify exercises that cause joint pain. Ask a trainer, physical therapist, or coach to help you with modifications.
As much as we may like to ignore the fact, none of us are getting any younger. While we may not be able to coax the same performance out of our bodies as we once could, adjusting expectations can help us in our quest to get the best results out of our bodies as we get older.
It can be hard to know when to “hang up the gloves” on a certain activity, but it’s better to err on the side of quitting an activity prematurely than it is to put your future well-being in the hands of your local emergency response team.
Wear protective gear such as elbow and knee pads when playing sports, riding a bike or performing vigorous activities to keep your joints protected from injury. This also includes work-related activities such as repeated kneeling or squatting.
Serious injuries or several minor injuries can damage cartilage. Injuries can lead to long-term joint problems.
Elbow and wrist braces, or guards, also help reduce stress on your joints during activities.
Ice is a great drug-free pain reliever. It helps relieve joint swelling and numbs pain. If you have a sore joint, apply ice wrapped in a towel or a cold pack to the painful area for no more than 20 minutes.
Don’t have ice or a cold pack? Try wrapping a bag of frozen vegetables (peas work best!) in a light towel. Never apply ice directly to the skin.
Your occupation can contribute to joint injury. Take a moment to stand back and look at how you are using your body. Are you sitting all day – be it at a desk, commuting? Are you kneeling for long periods, carrying repetitively, or bending and twisting?
If you are at a desk, make sure that you have had a workstation assessment. Karen can help if you have not, or would like more in-depth knowledge about how to set your workstation up correctly.
Use pads to protect your knees, and ensure that you know how to lift correctly. If you would like more information on this, please do not hesitate to get in contact with us at the Clinic.
When there’s physical work to be done, try to give the smaller joints of your body a break while your big joints swing into motion. They’re big for a reason, after all. If you were to see a knuckle joint and an elbow joint side-by-side and had to choose one to pick up a plastic bag full of frozen groceries, you’d wisely go big, and so you should in your everyday life.
If a bag or purse has a shoulder strap, see if you can “hook” it with your forearm when you pick it up, instead of clutching at it with your fingers. Also, hold it close to your body if possible instead of suspending it out from one side of your body.
When lifting something from the ground, bend using your hips and knees to protect the vertebrae in your spine. If a department-store door needs pushing to open, put a shoulder or hip to it. Use your foot or your rear end to shut the refrigerator door or clothing drawer.
If you can’t go big, use tools or instruments to take the place of a larger joint. For example, instead of grabbing small drawer handles with your fingers, attach a loop of cloth or string to the handle so you can use your forearm for the task.
The best way to protect your joints when using them is to use your head first. If you’re constantly bending over to work in your garden, can you create a raised flower bed instead? Instead of picking up an object from one end of a table to put it down on the other end, can you slide it instead?
Another “joint-smart” approach is to back off when your joints start reacting badly to a certain activity. It’s smarter to put the activity on hold and rest your body (or check your e-mail) before returning than it is to power through the activity at the expense of your body.
Plan your day and arrange your activities so they’re not all grouped together. If you have several projects, schedule a more intensive one between two simpler tasks to allow your joints plenty of rest. Don’t overestimate how much your joints can handle.
If you are already suffering with a joint conditions, decide if the task at hand is worth the toll it may take on your joints. Can you hire someone or call in a favour to get the task done?
If you are suffering with aches and pains, joint pain or stiffness, swelling of the joints, seek help. The earlier you get advice and treatment, the less damage will occur.
Your osteopath is the perfect person to see as they are specialist in treating the musculoskeletal system and they will refer you to your GP should you need medical intervention.
If you have suffered trauma to a joint, via an injury, accident etc. please see A & E or your GP to rule out a more serious condition such as fracture or dislocation.