When it comes to movement, our bodies have three vital tools that allow us to remain mobile: our muscles, tendons and joints. It’s important to take care of these three factors to stay active and remain mobile. Our joints particularly support our ability to be flexible and perform our daily tasks. However many of us throughout our lives will experience joint pain that can make it painful and uncomfortable to move fully, which can decrease our quality of life and independence. To avoid problems with your joints it’s essential to understand what can cause them problems, and what you can do to combat this.
Why are our joints important?
Our joints are the connections between our bones which allow us to bend and flex our various body parts. Many of our joints have cartilage where our bones meet each other. Healthy cartilage helps us remain mobile and flexible by allowing our bones to glide over each other without friction that can cause discomfort. Just like our bones, it’s common for our joints to degrade over time if not properly maintained. When our cartilage degrades our bones can rub against each other forming what we refer to as bone spurs. These bone spurs can form in your arms, legs, neck and spine which can be particularly painful. Bone spurs can remain undetected for years until you notice long term physical pain, so it’s really important to do what you can to preserve your joints and keep your cartilage healthy.
What degrades our joints?
All of our joints degrade over time. However certain conditions or lifestyle choices can accelerate this degradation which will eventually manifest in pain and physical discomfort. Joint pain can be caused by accidents such as a sprain or straining of your joints, but can also be symptoms of more serious long term conditions such as osteoarthritis, bursitis or rheumatoid arthritis. Short term joint pain can be harmless and easily fixed by removing pressure from joints and ensuring you’re not overworking one set of joints. When joint pain occurs on a regular basis consult a GP or doctor as it may be the sign of something more serious.
What can we do to look after our joints?
There are a number of factors that can affect joint health. Some of these factors are external such as our occupation or work environment, others are internal such as our diet or level of physical activity. Here are some examples of practical steps you can take to look after your joints.
Maintain a healthy weight
Our bodies put our joints, muscles and bones under pressure everyday. When we are overweight or obese we put far more pressure on our joints than our bodies are designed for which can increase the risk of developing joint pain or more serious conditions like arthritis. By making a few simple lifestyle choices you can help mitigate weight gain and joint pain. These same lifestyle choices can also promote good bone health and help reduce your risk of pain or injury. Ensuring that you are eating a varied and mixed diet with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables can not only help you lose weight and prevent weight gain, but can also provide the nutrients necessary for your body to maintain and repair your joints and cartilage. Nutrients such as Omega 3 can help reduce inflammation which can provide relief for those suffering from conditions such as osteoarthritis and is also great for your heart. Omega 3 can be found in oily fish like salmon or mackerel and also in walnuts, edamame beans. Vitamin K is also essential for preserving your joints and bones and reducing pain caused by inflammation. Vitamin K can be found in green leafy vegetables such as kale or spinach and also in fermented foods.
Staying active can help reduce stress in your limbs and joints. Our bones require strong muscles to support themselves, and without this support you are at risk of putting extra pressure on your joints. By engaging in regular movement you prevent yourself from being stuck in the same position too long which can apply excess pressure to certain joints and also decreases your circulation. It’s important to pick exercises that won’t cause any further damage or put excess pressure on your joints. Swimming is a preferable exercise as being suspended in water means you can exercise without putting pressure on your joints. Swimming is a form of low impact exercise which is perfect for those who suffer joint pain or have trouble getting mobile, you can read more about low impact exercise in our blog.
You can use heat to relax muscles and ease pain that may build up during exercise. Apply a hot flannel to areas of your body that you are worried about discomfort or know will need loosening up for exercise. During your exercise move slowly and gently to prevent risk of injury or overexertion. If you notice pain or discomfort during your workout, take a break. Sharp pain can be a sign that something is wrong and you shouldn’t overwork any area of the body that is in pain. You can use a cold towel or an ice pack to soothe areas of inflammation and reduce muscle tension after your workout. If you’d like to know more about using heat and cold to help aid workout recovery, please feel free to read our blog on this subject.
Looking after our joints from an early stage can be a great way of staying mobile and independent but it’s never too late to start. By looking after what you eat and exercising regularly you can prevent and lessen the symptoms of many conditions that can make movement difficult or uncomfortable. Engaging in light exercise and making sure you are not in one position for too long can help ensure that your joints will support your body and daily movement. Healthy joints will help support your bones and muscles, which in turn allows you to remain healthy, active and independent.