A joint is the connection between two bones. Joints and their surrounding structures allow you to bend your elbows and knees, wiggle your hips, flex and rotate your spine, turn your head, and wave your hand to say good-bye.
Smooth tissue called cartilage and synovium and a lubricant called synovial fluid cushion the joints so bones do not rub together.
With increasing age, injury, even sitting the wrong way or carrying too much weight, can cause wear and tear on your cartilage. This often leads to a reaction that can damage your joints and lead to arthritis.
The best way to care for your joints is to keep them and your muscles, ligaments, and bones strong and flexible and stable. Here are some tips for optimal joint health.
Stay in Motion:
It’s the golden rule of joint health. The more you move, the less stiffness you’ll have. Whether you’re reading, working, or watching TV, change positions often. Take breaks from your desk or your chair and get moving.
Padding is your pal. So suit up when you do things like in-line skating or playing contact sports. If your joints already ache, it might help to wear a brace when you do activities like tennis or golf.
Lean In to Your Weight:
Your size does affect some of the strain on your hips, knees, and back. Even a little weight loss can help prevent this. Every pound you lose takes 4 pounds of pressure off the knees. Ask your doctor about the best way for you to get started.
Don’t Stretch Before Exercise:
Flexibility helps you move with ease. Try to stretch daily or at least three times a week. Avoid stretching when your muscles are cold. Do a light warm-up first, like walking for 10 minutes, to loosen up the joints, ligaments, and tendons that surround the joints.
What exercise is good? The best choices are activities that don’t impact your joints, like walking, bicycling, swimming, and strength training.
Flex Some Muscle
Get stronger to give your joints better support. Even a little more strength makes a difference. A physical therapist or certified trainer can show you what exercises to do and how to do them effectively. If you have joint problems, it is a good idea to avoid quick, repetitive movements.
Work on Your Range
Are your joints stiff and inflexible? You’ll want to regain, or retain as much as you can of your “range of motion. Each specific joint has a normal range of motion that is expressed in degrees. Your Physical therapist can recommend exercises to improve this.
The power of your Core:
Stronger abdominal and back muscles are important for your balance, so you’re less likely to fall or get injured. Add core (abdominal, back, and hip) strengthening exercises to your routine. Pilates and yoga are great workouts to try.
Know Your Limits
It’s normal to have some aching muscles after you exercise. However, if you hurt for more than 48 hours post workout, you may have overstressed your joints. Don’t push so hard next time. Working through the pain may lead to an injury or damage.
Keep Your Bones Strong
Calcium and vitamin D can help you do that. Dairy products are the best sources of calcium, but other options are green, leafy vegetables like broccoli and kale. If you don’t get enough calcium from food, ask your doctor about supplements.
Target Your Posture
Stand and sit up straight to protect joints all the way from the neck down to your knees. To improve your posture, move often, or take a walk. The faster you do it, the harder your muscles work to keep you upright. Swimming can also help.
Ease Your Load
Consider your joints when lifting and carrying. Carry bags on your arms instead of with your hands to let your bigger muscles and joints support the weight.
Chill Out Pain
Ice is a natural pain reliever. It numbs the discomfort and eases swelling. If you have a sore joint, apply a cold pack, or bag of frozen peas wrapped in a towel. Never apply ice directly to your skin. Leave it on for up to 20 minutes at a time, and repeat a few times with half hour breaks in between.
Treat Joint Injuries
They can add to the breakdown of cartilage in your joints. If you get hurt, see your doctor right away for treatment. Then take steps to avoid more damage. You may need to avoid activities that put too much stress on your joint or use a brace to stabilize it temporarily.