These days most of us are trying to be health-conscious. We take care to exercise and watch what we eat, but how many of us pay attention to our joints?
Joints form a connection between two bones and enable you to carry out a range of movements from bending your back, knees or elbows to wiggling your hips, walking and even running. As some people have unfortunately found out, these movements can be awkward, painful and difficult if the joints have problems.
How Joints Get Worn Down
Joints are exposed to friction, and if their health is neglected, they could sustain significant wear and tear, leading to their eventual deterioration. To understand how this happens, it’s important to first get an idea of how joints work.
The main parts of a joint are the cartilage, the synovium, and the synovial fluid. The cartilage is the smooth, rubber-like connective tissue that covers the ends of bones. It cushions the joints, helping them move smoothly and easily. The synovium, or the synovial membrane, is a soft tissue that lines the inner surface of the joint. It produces a thick fluid—known as the synovial fluid—that works to lubricate and nourish the cartilage.
As the cartilage deteriorates, its cushioning effect diminishes, and adjacent bones start scraping against each other. This, coupled with insufficient lubrication from the synovial fluid, eventually leads to joint pain and inflammation.
Some of the factors responsible for joint wear and tear include:
- Age – Your joints naturally deteriorate with age, causing mild soreness or aching whenever you exercise, stand or bend.
- Weight – The heavier you are, the more stress you end up putting on your bones and joints, especially your hips and knees.
- Injury– Trauma such as sports injuries or accidents can end up tearing the ligaments around the cartilage or damaging the cartilage itself. When this happens, the joints can become inflamed or otherwise damaged due to the effects of friction.
How To Strengthen Your Joints
The best way to care for your joints is to keep them strong and stable. This also includes your bones, muscles, and ligaments. Follow these tips for good joint health.
Watch your weight
The heavier you are, the more weight you put on your weight-bearing joints, namely your back, hips, and knees. Shedding extra pounds and maintaining your weight within a healthy range lightens the load on your joints and reduces pressure on them. This, in turn, reduces joint deterioration and cuts the risk of osteoporosis.
Do some joint-friendly exercises
Exercise not only helps you cut back on your weight, but it also helps to keep your joints limber. It can also help relieve joint pain and swelling. If you’re worried about stressing out your joints or if they give you trouble, go for low impact exercises like cycling, walking, swimming, yoga or Tai Chi. While these exercises are easier on your joints, they are still can be intense enough to give you a good workout. Start out with short sessions and gradually lengthen them as you go, taking care to pay attention to your body.
Build up your muscles
Strength training and weight lifting sound like the last things people with joint problems should do. However, strength training is actually good for your joints. It helps you bulk up, building stronger muscles and ligaments as well as denser bones. This then helps to stabilize and protect your joints. Stronger muscles also ensure that your joints don’t do all the heavy work of supporting your body.
Boost your calcium levels
Another excellent way to build strong bones and joints is to keep an eye on your diet. Ditching fast food and fizzy drinks for foods rich in calcium is one of the best ways of improving joint health. Contrary to popular opinion, milk isn’t the only calcium-rich food around. Others include spinach, kale, figs, nuts and seeds (e.g., chia and sesame seeds).
Increase vitamin intake
Including fruits and vegetables in your diet also ensures that you get enough phytochemicals and antioxidants that help fight free radicals in your body, lowering the risk of osteoporosis. Fruits and vegetables are also good sources of magnesium and vitamin K, which are essential for healthy bones and joints.
Add some omega-3 to your diet
In addition to calcium, magnesium and vitamins D and K, you should also include more omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. Fatty acids have been shown to be beneficial in easing stiffness, joint pain, and mobility issues that come with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Good plant-based sources of omega-3 include chia seeds, walnuts, Brussels sprouts, and hemp seeds.
Stretch and massage regularly
Sitting or standing for long periods locks your joints in one position, encouraging stiffness and pain. Indulging in a regular massage will go a long way towards relieving tension in your body, relaxing both your muscles and joints. You can also enjoy some forms of massage which exclusively focus on improving joint function and easing achy joints.
By doing taking the time to strengthen your body and shift to a plant-based diet, you can enjoy stronger joints for easy, pain-free movement as you age.