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Healthy Joints – Protect Them, Or Risk Losing Them

By Ryan Pitts, MD, Orthopedic Surgeon, Sports Medicine, on staff at Missouri Baptist Medical Center
Posted: June 2011

You climb the stairs and notice your knees are aching, again. You grab the bag of groceries and your shoulder aches, again. Sound familiar? 

A joint is where two bones meet. Most joints, when they move, produce a lubricating fluid that helps bones move without friction. When there’s no joint movement, there’s no fluid going into the joint.  After awhile, it takes more movement to get it flowing again. To keep your joints healthy, stay active. 

Joint pain is the #1 reason people visit my office. Many of my patients are overweight. Some are too busy to come in for evaluation.  Others are just “over-doers” when it comes to exercise. They’ve been told to push through the burn and then wonder why they ache. That’s when they begin to experience acute injury, causing chronic inflammation of the tendons. Your body can only take so much. People need to know when to back off.

If a joint swells and is stiff, don’t put additional strain on the joint. It needs rest for seven to 10 days with ice every 20 minutes for the first 24 to 48 hours. If it doesn’t get better, then see your primary care physician to evaluate the condition. 

What Causes Wear and Tear?

Minor joint injuries, such as a twist. 

Inflammation sets in at the injury and releases chemicals that destroy cartilage.

Loss of muscle mass.  Exercise regularly, or your joints, rather than your muscles, will absorb pressure and resistance, which will further damage joints. 

Excess weight. The more body mass on  joints, the more damage. Losing 15 pounds can decrease knee pain by 50 percent.

It’s amazing what people will put up with for long periods of time.  Some people wait three months to two years with painful conditions before visiting their physician. By that time, they’re only able to walk a half-block and they ache at night.

Injuries need to be evaluated when they first occur, not when arthritis has set in and the cartilage in the joint is damaged.  Do not overlook any issue that limits your activities. Have it checked when you first notice it.

Keeping Your Joints in Shape

Always check with your doctor before beginning any new exercise or eating plan to discuss what’s appropriate for you.

Maintain a healthy weight. It helps to reduce small tears in supporting tissues that break down cartilage.

Vary your exercise to reduce stiffness.  I call it cross training. Try low or no-impact aerobic exercises twice a week mixed with strength exercises, stretching and relaxation. 

Use weight training to strengthen your muscles and ligaments. They surround the joint and will protect it from damage.

Ice your joints after exercise.  If you ice for approximately 10 minutes, this will prevent swelling and assist in managing pain. 

Eat a healthy diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids.  This may help to reduce joint pain, and also reduce inflammation.

Staying active and maintaining a healthy weight are key to keeping your joints moving.

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