Keeping your weight within a healthy range is the best thing you can do for your joints. Weight-bearing joints, such as your knees, hips, and back, have to support some, if not all, of your body weight.
You and Your Joints
A joint is the connection between two bones. Joints and their surrounding structures allow you to bend your elbows and knees, wiggle your hips, bend your back, turn your head, and wave your fingers to say bye-bye.
Smooth tissue called cartilage and synovium and a lubricant called synovial fluid cushion the joints so bones do not rub together. But increasing age, injury — even sitting the wrong way or carrying too much weight — can wear and tear your cartilage. This can lead to a reaction in your joint 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 stable. Here are some tips for good joint health.
Watch Your Weight for Healthy Joints
Keeping your weight within a healthy range is the best thing you can do for your joints. Weight-bearing joints, such as your knees, hips, and back, have to support some, if not all, of your body weight. That’s why so many overweight people have problems with these areas of the body.
The higher the number on your bathroom scale, the more wear and tear you put on your joints. Losing weight reduces pressure on your knees, hips, and back and helps prevent joint injury. Research has shown that with every pound gained, a person puts four times more stress on the knees. Women who lose about 11 pounds reduce their risk of developing arthritis of the knees.
Exercise for Healthy Joints
Exercise can help you lose extra pounds and maintain a healthy weight. Some research suggests that aerobic exercise — activities that get your heart rate up — can reduce joint swelling. Opt for exercises that won’t give your joints a pounding. Instead of step aerobics, try low-impact exercises such as swimming or bicycling.
Another healthy idea: Don’t sit still! Couch potatoes, computer addicts, and anyone else who remains glued to a chair all day long have a high risk for joint pain. Less movement means more stiffness in your joints. So get up and get moving. Change positions frequently. Take frequent breaks at work and stretch or go for a short walk. If you can’t leave the office, try taking phone calls while standing.
Build Muscles to Support Joints
Strong muscles support your joints. If you don’t have enough muscle, your joints take a pounding, especially those in your knees, which must support your entire body weight. Weight training exercises help build muscle and keep existing muscle and surrounding ligaments strong. That way, your joints don’t have to do all the work. Make sure you talk to your doctor before starting any type of exercise routine, including weight lifting. You don’t want to strain the joint that you’re trying to strengthen.
Help Joints With a Strong Core
Make sure your exercise routine includes activities that strengthen your abdominal (core) muscles. Stronger abs and back muscles help you keep your balance and prevent falls that can damage your joints.
Know Your Limits for Your Joints’ Sake
Certain exercises and activities might just be too tough for your joints to handle at first. Go slow. Modify exercises that cause joint pain. Ask a trainer, physical therapist or coach to help you with modifications. You will likely feel some muscle pain after working out for a few days, especially the second and third day. Listen to your body, and learn the difference between “threatening pain” and good muscle building pain.
Don’t be afraid to ask if you need help with a specific task or chore. A second pair of hands always comes in — well, handy!
Perfect Your Posture for Good Joints
Slouching is not good for your joints. Standing and sitting up straight protects your joints from your neck to your knees. Good posture also helps guard your hip joints and back muscles.
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.
Protecting Your Body Protects Joints
Make sure you always wear a helmet, knee pads, and elbow and wrist pads when taking part in high-risk activities, including work-related ones such as repetitive kneeling or squatting. Even if you think you’re a pro on a bicycle or on a pair of Rollerblades, you should never go without safety gear. Hit the wrong bump in the road and you could be headed for a lifetime of joint pain. Serious injuries or several minor injuries can damage cartilage.Preventing injuries can help ward off early onset arthritis. Elbow and wrist braces, or guards, also help reduce stress on your joints during activities.
Add Ice for Healthy Joints
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. In the sports world, there is still some controversy whether to use ice or heat or nothing except compression to prevent swelling. The jury is still out. Certainly if there is a lot of swelling, ice is still recommended for the first 24-48 hours.
Eating Right Nourishes Joints
A healthy, balanced diet helps build strong bones. Strong bones can keep you on your feet, and prevent falls that may lead to joint damage. Make sure you get plenty of calcium every day. You can do this by eating foods such as yogurt, broccoli, kale, figs, and dairy if you don’t have a dairy intolerance or allergy. If those foods don’t tempt your taste buds, ask your doctor if calcium supplements are right for you.
Recent research indicates that a diet that contains the proper amount of vitamin D is important for good bone and joint health. Adequate vitamin D allows calcium from the foods you eat to be readily absorbed, so you may not need calcium supplements. You should 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 reduce the risk of osteoarthritis.
Salmon is particularly beneficial for your joints. Not only is it a good source of calcium, it also contains omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s promote healthy joints and reduce joint pain and swelling in people with arthritis. Mackerel is another source of omega-3s. You can also get omega-3s by taking good fish oil capsules. Read the label for how much Omega 3’s are in them.
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