It’s easy to forget the importance of joint health. The “hinges” in your body that allow you to move. Without joints, we would be too stiff to move! Think about it. Stand up, while keeping your ankles, knees, hips, elbows and shoulders from moving. Try to move around the room.
Go ahead, try it out. I’ll wait…
See what happens? You can’t move! That is exactly why it is so important to be mindful of joint health. You can’t do very much at all, without your joints. Every single one of us needs our joints to be healthy, to allow us to do the things that we want to do. Heck, even getting up off the couch requires your joints to work properly.
You’re convinced that joints are important. Good. But before we get into how to keep strong and injury free, let’s take a look at joint structure, to better understand what we are dealing with.
Though there are different kinds of joints, they more or less do the same thing. They connect one bone to another, to allow us to move. It’s our joints that allow our bodies to bend and twist. Inside our joints there exists tendons, ligaments and cartilage. Ligaments attach bone to bone. Tendons attach muscle to bone. Cartilage is important because it acts as the cushion within the joints. It is what keeps our bones from grinding together (ouch!). This is a situation where grrrrrrinDING isn’t a good thing :p.
Osteoarthritis is when your cartilage begins to wear away. The less cartilage you have or the more damage you sustain to what you do have, the more ouchies you feel (“Ouchies” is a new medical term, look it up). This happens because of many factors. Previous injuries, getting older, losing muscle mass, being overweight, all contribute to wear and tear on joint cartilage.
How can you take care of your joints? Good question. I like where your head’s at, reader.
Strength Train: Yup, there it is again. Strength training has so many health benefits, it should be no surprise that it pops up time and time again in the topic of fitness and wellness. If you don’t work to maintain muscle mass, as you get older, you will lose it. Thus, contributing to more wear and tear on your joints. On the flip side, if you work to maintain (or better yet, gain muscle mass/strength), you work to take more stress off of your joints.The stronger your muscles are, the more they can take the wear and tear of every day life, instead of passing that onto your joints. Athletes, dancers, enthusiasts of being active, pay special attention to this point. Even if you haven’t been able to get yourself to be active, this still applies to you.
Weight Management: The more weight you are carrying around, the more weight your joints have to deal with. Think about the knees. The more you weigh, the more strain is put on your knees. Now, slow down, pat’na. I’m not here to claim that everyone should have the goal of having a six pack, or that we should all be ashamed of our bodies. I truly believe it is important to be happy with who we are and not compare ourselves too much with others. Now, I AM saying that it’s a good idea to self reflect on our own fitness level. Would it benefit our body to eat a bit better and get a big more active? Would it benefit our joints if we did get a bit more lean? Those are questions we will need to answer ourselves, on an individual basis.
Ice: You’ve seen it before. After a game or performance or intense bout of exercise, some people wrap ice around their shoulder, knee, shoulder etc. Icing joints used in intense activity can help prevent swelling, as well as manage pain. When you exercise, a joint lubricant called Synovial fluid is released into the joint. Lubricant is good for joints right? Yes. The problem is, when exercise is over, this lubricant can cause damage to cartilage. Icing gets this fluid out of your joints, when it is no longer necessary.
Food: Omega 3 fatty acids and Vitamin D can benefit joint health because they have an anti inflammatory effect, as well as can work to reduce joint pain.
Muscle Knots = Bad: The tighter your muscles are, the more stress they put on your joints. If you allow muscle knots to remain, think about the strain they put on your joints. Strain on joints = more likelihood for injury or pain. This is why massages or using a foam roller are so beneficial for joint health. Massaging or foam rolling your muscles is a great way to release the muscle knots that many of us have come to (unfortunately) become familiar with.
Joint health is important to everyone, unless you don’t have any joints. In which case, this is one thing you get to not worry about. But for the rest of us, with joints, we need to make sure we keep in mind how important this topic is. If you have no joint pain now, great! Keep it that way, by taking care of yourself. If you are active, pay special attention to joint health. In order to continue to perform at the best level possible, you need to have healthy joints.