We all know that prevention is better than cure, but how many of us actually pay attention. Maintaining healthy joints is vital to our overall well-being. A chronic pain and stiffness in joints can deteriorate our lifestyle by limiting our mobility, which in turn can lead to other health issues, and even depression.
Certain joints in our body are vital for movements – such as the knee joint, hip joint, and our spine. These are also most susceptible to chronic pain especially when we fail to maintain them through a combination of the right exercise, diet, and other protection means. A joint is not just the bones, but also the soft tissues associated with it, such as tendons, ligaments, and muscles.
The ways and means of joint protection are simple, as long as we follow is as a routine. These can be broadly categorized into three main themes:
Move Your Joints
Our body is designed to gain or lose strength in a muscle, depending on the amount of its use. Regular use of a particular muscle keeps it strong and healthy. The same principle applies to the muscles that help keep our joints healthy.
- Be Physically Active: Exercises keep joints mobile and functional, strengthen muscles and maintain their flexibility. Research has proven that lack of exercise induces disuse changes in the muscles and bones of joints and that regular exercises are important to maintain blood and synovial fluid circulation in your joints.1
- Go Hiking: Apart from providing you with fresh air to breathing in, hiking strengthens muscles and bones. You could take out time during weekends to imbibe these benefits. Some hiking gears like hiking boots, hiking bags etc may be planned before you plan a trecking trip.
- Have a pet: If you already have a pet, you are privileged. Research has proven that spending time with a pet improves your mental and physical health. Routine chores like walking your dog increase physical activity.
Protect Your Joints
Although movement is important to keep joints healthy, one should avoid overusing them. Most of the injuries due to overuse are self-inflicted in nature and can be avoided.
- Avoid Overuse: Everybody recommends regular exercise, but it is essential that your work-out regime is correct. Over-exercising or wrong methods can overstress your joints; hence it’s prudent to have a trainer for guidance.
- Avoid Heavy Weights: It’s a recent trend among youngsters to attain six-pack abs. However, most of us aren’t aware that weight training needs to be coupled with increased protein intake. Researchers have found that excessive mechanical stress may lead to the destruction of the articular cartilage of joints and hence osteoarthritis.2 Overloading your muscles and bones may hamper both bones and joints. Optimal weight-training and a healthy lifestyle should be considered instead of imitating others.
- Maintain Slow Ramp-Up: When you first begin going to a gym you may get motivated to lift heavy weights when you see others with well-toned muscles; but be warned that as a newbie, you need to be extra careful about starting with light weights. Do not be embarrassed to start slow, because the best sportsmen know their body’s limit and ramp up slowly to avoid injuries.
- Try Low Impact Exercises: Doctors recommend that biking and swimming are more beneficial as compared to high-impact exercises like kickboxing and step aerobics, as the latter forms could harm our joints.
- Consciously Protect from Overuse: Certain occupations result in overuse of joints. A person’s job may require long hours of sitting, that strains the back and neck muscles. Another person may need standing, maybe in a shop, which can impact knees. Once you understand which part of your body may be subject to overuse, conscious attempt to take occasional breaks can increase your joint’s life and keep them healthy.
- Use Safeguards during Sports: If one is engaged in high-impact or contact sports, it is important to use adequate and recommended safety equipment to avoid severe injury. Different type of sport requires different protection gears such as helmets, pads, braces, and guards to protect head, neck, shoulders, ankles, elbows etc. from sports injuries.
Acquire Good Habits
We may engage in exercise possibly for half an hour or an hour every day, but how we spend the rest of our day matters a lot for the good health of our joints.
- Maintain a Good Posture: We have a whole generation of people glued to the screen. If your job demands sitting in front of a monitor for hours together then you have to be very careful. Make sure that the computer screen is positioned at your eye level or slightly lower and at a minimum distance of 20 to 26 inches from your eyes. This enables your head to be in a neutral position and eliminates strain on your neck and lower-back.
- Use an Armrest: Keep your arms at right angles to your elbows in a comfortable position, and wrists relaxed while you type or click on a mouse. This will prevent you from acquiring Carpal tunnel syndrome. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition caused by repeated motion of wrists and thumb, such as typing on a keyboard, using a mouse, using racquetball or handball, sewing, writing, painting, and playing certain musical instruments.
- Try a Footrest: If your work involves long hours of sitting, you may consider having a foot-rest. A footrest allows your leg to be placed in a way that enables proper blood circulation, and an occasional movement of your ankle and feet. Having a foot-rest can be very beneficial for people suffering from any blood circulation disorder or diabetes.
- Take a Break: Furthermore, if you have a job which requires sitting for long durations, stretching every 30 minutes or alternating between sitting and standing, will help prevent locking of your joints and fatigue. People having a sedentary lifestyle are also at a high risk of developing diabetes and heart diseases.
- Use Proper Laptop Bag: Carrying the laptop in a backpack may cause shoulder strain and pain. You could invest in a trolley bag of an appropriate size to let your shoulders rest. You could invest in a trolley bag of an appropriate size to let your shoulders rest.
- Avoid High Heels: It is always preferable to choose footwear with short heels, for instance, an inch, rather than higher ones. Research has proven that higher heels apply unnecessary stress on your foot, knees, and spine and may increase your chances of developing osteoarthritis.
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It may surprise you but just as physical exercise is important to keep our joints and muscles healthy, it is equally important to avoid mental stress. Strong links have now been established between mental tension and onset of degenerative conditions such as arthritis. The onset of back pain has been closely linked with emotional health issues including stress, anxiety, and depression. Here are some ways to control mental stress.
- Practice Yoga: Yoga de-stresses joints and muscles and helps you maintain a healthy body weight. Tai-chi, yoga, and Pilates, though gentle forms of exercise, provide strength to your muscles and joints.
- Sleep: A good night’s sleep is essential for relieving sore muscles and hence is good for your joint’s health. In today’s competitive world, people tend to skip on sleep and adequate rest. There are no fixed rules as to how much sleep time is appropriate. The need also varies based on one’s age, occupation and the quality of sleep one gets. Ensure to give yourself a good sleep.
- Relax with Warm packs: Applying warm packs to your joints or enjoying a hot water bath after exercising are good ways of relaxing your muscles and joints.
- Get a Massage: Availing a massage after a long day at work drains fatigue and muscle tension. Choose specific massages that are good for your joints and bones to give them a treat.
- Seek a Change: Change of location could be a great way to de-stress. Periodic vacations are essential to relax you and are thus good for your joints, as well.
Maintain Healthy Diet
The secret behind maintaining a healthy and fit physical life lies in having good food habits.
- Control your Diet: All of us know the benefits of eating healthy. The good news is, having a balanced diet keeps your joints healthy. A balanced diet should incorporate adequate amounts of each nutrient like carbohydrates, proteins, fats, all vitamins, and minerals, but nothing in excess.
- Avoid Calcium Deficiency: Calcium deficiency can lead to osteoporosis, a disease in which bones become weak and brittle. Foods such as milk, yogurt, figs, and salmon can serve as a good source of calcium supply.
- Have Fruits: Citrus fruits have vitamin-C which reduces the risk of osteoarthritis – a disease-causing joint pain and stiffness. All fruits have antioxidants, hence having a variety of fruits gives you maximum nutrients.
- Grill your Fish: Fish like salmon and mackerel have Omega-3 fatty acids which can reduce joint pain and stiffness. Having grilled fish or fish oil capsules gives good cholesterol to your body, which in turn helps curb bad cholesterol, thus, improving general health.
- Check Red Meats: Grilled meats are low on oil and provide adequate nutrition. Replace fried meats with grilled versions, since less oil consumption is good for your joints too. All red meats like mutton, lamb, turkey, seafood, and beef are to be avoided as they have a high uric acid content. The same stands true for other foods like those containing yeast, for instance, bread and cake. High uric acid in the blood can cause deposits in joints leading to gout and arthritis.
- Keep Hydrated: Have plenty of water and juices every day. Water helps in digestion and improves absorption of nutrients from food.
- Sun-bathe: Sun exposure on bare skin triggers the production of vitamin-D. Vitamin-D is essential for absorption of calcium and phosphorus from food – essential nutrients for bone growth and repair. Experts suggest that 20-30 minutes of unblocked sun exposure per day is adequate to produce the required amount of vitamin-D.
- Curb Soft Drinks: Consume fresh fruit juices to quench your thirst instead of aerated soft drinks. Research has found a link between soft drink consumption and reduced bone mineral density and risk of bone fracture. 3
- Reduce Alcohol: Alcohol causes uric acid deposits in joints, causing joint pain. Being a diuretic, alcohol causes dehydration which affects joints, as well.
- Quit Tobacco: All forms of tobacco causes narrowing of blood vessels. This leads to the reduced amount of oxygenated blood reaching various parts of your body, including joints. Tobacco consumption, therefore, speeds up the aging process. Smoking reduces bone mass and can lead to osteoporosis.
- Stay Away From Junk: Junk foods are oily and low on nutrition. Junk food makes you deficient in vitamins and minerals which are very important for your joint’s health.
- Treat Your Ailments: Kidney or liver disease or damage to intestinal walls can hinder the metabolism of vitamin-D and hence cause weakness in bones and joints.
- Know the Side- effects: Many of us take regular medications which can affect joints. It is wise to ask your doctor about potential side-effects of your regular medications on long-term usage and whether they can be replaced.
Leading a pain-free life should be a top priority. Although joint pain can be triggered by multiple factors which include genetic, environment, and hormones – following simple precautions can keep our joints healthier and delay their aging.
Yes, I know what you may be thinking, how I am going to practice so many of these tips?
All of these tips may not be applicable to you. The best way is to start somewhere. You know your needs best, and whether your occupation can create stress in any particular body part. So, start with just one tip first, and ensure to practice it for one full week. Then, come back for more and keep incorporating good habits to maintain a healthy body and mind, and to live a pain-free life not just for now but in the future, as well.
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Dr. Kaleem Mohammed graduated as a Bachelor of Physiotherapy in 2014 from Deccan College of Physiotherapy, affiliated to Dr. N.T.R. University of Health Sciences, Vijayawada, India. Dr. Kaleem is an expert at handling physiotherapy needs of patients suffering from orthopedic and spinal conditions and post-surgery rehabilitation. Dr. Kaleem is associated with HealthClues since its inception where he facilitates diagnosis and advanced consultation with senior doctors. He is also a medical researcher and prolific writer who loves sharing insightful commentaries and useful tips to educate the patient community about fitness, treatment options, and post-treatment recovery.