Protecting your Joints
One of the most common reasons that people have hip and knee replacement surgery is to relieve the pain of osteoarthritis. We all have cartilage at the ends of our bones. Cartilage provides a kind of cushion in the joints, where bones meet. As we get older, the common activities of daily life often cause the cartilage to lose its elasticity and wear away. It no longer protects the joints as well. Bone rubs on bone, causing inflammation and pain—the pain of
We don’t have to sit back and simply hope that osteoarthritis won’t happen. The truth is that most people eventually develop some degree of osteoarthritis, especially in the hips, knees, spine and fingers. But there are steps you can take to minimize your risk of developing osteoarthritis and to slow down its progression:
Try to maintain a normal weight
Excess weight puts extra stress and strain on your joints. It’s that simple. There’s also a chicken-egg component here: excess weight makes exercise more difficult. People who don’t exercise have weaker muscles, and weak thigh muscles can actually put stress on the knees.
Choose exercise that’s appropriate for you
Getting regular exercise is one of the best things for joint health. Exercise provides circulation to the joints and helps keep them stable. It strengthens muscles, which then provide joint support. But some exercises are better for some people than others.
Let’s say you’re a runner. You love to run because it makes you feel good, helps you keep your weight in check and it helps you sleep well. But you often notice pain in your knees, even though you’re only 30 years old. Sometimes you have to take a few days off from running, just to give your knees a rest.
If this sound like you, it could be that your body type is not ideally suited to running. You may be increasing your chances of developing osteoarthritis in your knees—sooner rather than later.
When you see a vigorous 70-year-old jogging along the side of the road, do you ever tell yourself you’re going to do your best to stay active like that? Staying active is essential, but that 70-year-old is lucky enough to have joints that can handle extreme wear and tear. No matter how much you want to be able to run when you’re 70, you need to have the right kind of body. Running isn’t for everybody, not even people in their 2-s and 30s.
People who have bowlegs, hip dysplasia or double jointedness already have conditions that place extra stress on the joints. It’s common for many people to have knee problems such as tears in their ligaments and cartilage. Exercises like running, skiing and tennis may be too hard on their joints. Swimming, fast walking and other water exercises may be more beneficial.
Professional and competitive athletes are also more at risk of developing osteoarthritis. They often sustain repeated injuries to joints, and injury is a common osteoarthritis risk factor. One example is Dorothy Hamill, an American who won an Olympic gold medal for figure skating in 1976. She appears on television commercials for arthritis medication. She suffers from osteoarthritis and takes medication for her pain.
It’s always a good idea to check with your doctor to make sure that your choice of exercise is good for your body. And that’s especially true if you notice aches and pains and suspect your exercise program is the cause. It can be hard to hear that an exercise you love isn’t good for you, but the knowledge can save you a lot of pain and suffering in the years ahead.
Be aware of any occupational risks
If your job requires you to put a lot of stress on your joints, be sure to talk to a physical therapist about ways to protect yourself. The kinds of help physical therapy can provide include learning how to
- Move in ways that minimize joint stress
- Increase muscle strength to provide more joint protection
- Use braces and shoe inserts to reduce joint stress
- Apply heat and cold when joints are painful
Common sense, moderation and listening to your body will go a long way toward keeping your joints in good condition. You may have to modify some of your habits now, but if it helps you put off or avoid joint replacement surgery or just the general pain of osteoarthritis, it’s worth it.
Arthritis National Research Foundation; The New York Times, Personal Health, 30 July 2002.