It’s never too early to start taking care of your joints. As you know, a joint is the space that surrounds the area where two bones meet. The ends of the bones within a joint are covered with a layer of protective tissue called cartilage. The purpose of cartilage is to absorb shock and reduce friction when the bones move. With osteoarthritis, the cartilage covering the bones wears away leaving the bone exposed.
Joints allow movement, but movement within certain parameters. You don’t want a joint to have TOO much ability to move, as it would be unstable. A joint capsule made of connective tissue encases the joint and helps stabilize it.
Joints function well – until they don’t. Degenerative joint changes, due to osteoarthritis, are one of the most common age-related health issues. Although osteoarthritis doesn’t always cause symptoms, it can, in some people, progress to the point that it makes daily activities difficult. The most common site for osteoarthritis is the knee. In fact, osteoarthritis of the knee ranks among the top five causes of disability in adults.
You use your knees in most of your daily activities, so a stiff, painful knee due to osteoarthritis can put a crimp in your daily activities. Who’s most susceptible to osteoarthritis? Genetics and gender are two risk factors. Osteoarthritis is more common in women and it often runs in families. Still, there are lots of risk factors for osteoarthritis you can modify through lifestyle. Let’s look at some of the steps you can take to keep your joints healthy.
Control Your Weight
The more body weight you carry on your frame – the more stress you place on your joints. When joints have to bear excess pressure, it increases the rate of cartilage breakdown. Research shows obese women have 4 times the rate of osteoarthritis as women of normal body weight. Simply keeping your body weight in a normal range can help stave off future cartilage degeneration and keep your knee and hip joints healthier.
One of the best ways to reduce stress on your knee joints is to strengthen the quadriceps muscles in your thighs. Strong muscles help to shield the joints that lie beneath from injury. What’s the best way to do that? Strength training, of course. On the other hand, you also want to train safely to avoid joint injury. When you injure a joint, like a knee joint, your risk of developing arthritis in that joint increases by three-fold.
Try these tips for avoiding joint damage:
1. Lower your risk for a joint injury by wearing shoes that fit properly and have cushioning that protects against shock when you do high-intensity exercise.
. Warm-up for at least 5 minutes with dynamic stretches and exercises that increase blood flow to your joints before doing high-impact exercise – or any exercise.
. When you jump, watch your form in the mirror. Make sure you’re bending your knees when you land. Straight-legged landings place too much stress on your knee joints.
. Alternate high-impact exercise with low-impact exercise. Low-impact moves are those where both feet don’t leave the floor at the same time.
For keeping your joints healthy, exercise beats being a couch potato. In a study published in the journal Rheumatology, researchers followed a group of 800 women and men with osteoarthritis of the knee. They methodically tracked the number of hours they had exercised versus being sedentary.
The results? Those who had exercised moderately were less likely to suffer from severe arthritis. Research shows people who exercise moderately are at lower risk for knee osteoarthritis relative to folks who are sedentary or do frequent, strenuous, high-impact exercise like running marathons.
Support Your Joints with Good Nutrition
Although there’s no firm evidence that specific foods prevent osteoarthritis or other forms of joint destruction, some foods have anti-inflammatory properties that may help ease the discomfort of osteoarthritis. One example is long-chain omega-3s in fatty fish like wild-caught salmon.
Add a little spice to your life. Ginger and turmeric are spices with strong anti-inflammatory benefits. While studies are inconsistent, some research suggests that taking supplemental glucosamine helps rebuild joint cartilage. Eating a variety of whole foods, particularly fruits and vegetables, is also conducive to joint health since veggies and fruits are rich in antioxidants.
Work on Your Posture
Bad posture places excessive stress on your joints when you sit or stand. Become aware of how you’re sitting and standing. Whether you’re sitting in a chair or standing, your spine should be aligned and your weight evenly distributed. Practice aligning your body properly by standing with your back against a wall. When you sit, your feet should be flat on the floor and your back firmly against the back of your chair. Make sure your computer monitor is at eye level when you work. Years of poor posture places wear and tear on your joints that can lead to joint problems later. Work on strengthening all of the muscles in your core too to give your joints a strong foundation.
How Do You Know if You Have Osteoarthritis?
The cardinal signs of osteoarthritis are pain, stiffness (particularly in the morning), and reduced joint function. As far as diagnosing osteoarthritis, you don’t always see joint destruction when you x-ray a joint. In some cases, x-rays aren’t sensitive enough. If changes do show up, the x-ray will often show narrowing of the joint, meaning there’s less cartilage covering the bones. You may also see bone spurs and calcifications. By the time you see x-rays changes, the joint damage is usually more advanced. A better study for detecting osteoarthritis is an MRI. Keep in mind that there are other causes of joint pain and damage, although osteoarthritis is the most common.
The Bottom Line
There ARE things you can do to keep your joints healthy and lower your risk for joint degeneration and osteoarthritis. Most importantly – keep your weight in the normal range and strengthen the muscles that support your joints. Take care of your joints and the rest of your body – you need it to last a lifetime.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Arthritis”
Caspian J Intern Med. 2011 Spring; 2(2): 205-212.
Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center. “Role of Body Weight in Osteoarthritis”
WebMD. “Osteoarthritis Prevention”
Medscape.com. “Light Exercise May Delay or Prevent Osteoarthritis of the Knee”
Medscape Multispecialty. “Light Exercise May Delay or Prevent Osteoarthritis of the Knee”
WebMD. “Is Glucosamine Good for Joint Pain?”
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