To treat your joints, you don’t have to pamper them or let them soak for hours in bubble baths. While there’s some truth to taking care of yourself, you have to let joints do their job. You will naturally experience wear and tear through the years.The key is finding a balance between rehabilitation and exercise. You have control over protecting your joints from injury and speeding repair when the wear and tear takes its toll.
Check Your Bottom:
Misalignment is one of the largest, most preventable causes of joint destruction and ligament tears. This happens more in women with wider hips. Your bones and joints may be slightly misaligned if you walk bow-legged. Other causes of this misalignment include a displaced leg bone fracture. If you don’t have a typical range of motion in your joint, visit a physical therapist who specializes in that area.
You can get some insight into your biomechanics when you look at the wear pattern on the soles of your shoes. There should be two wear patterns on the bottom of the shoe. One where the heel strikes, and the other where the forefoot (front of the foot) falls. If the wear is to the extreme inside of your forefoot, you roll your foot in—you’re a pronator. You don’t roll enough if this wear is to the extreme inside (a supinator). Running shoes compensate for and correct some of these biomechanical issues.
Cover Your Feet:
It’s crucial to have well-cushioned shoes when you’re on your feet for extended periods. Running shoes are cushioned in the back, where your heel strikes the ground first and absorbs most of your body’s weight. Have an expert at a specialty running shoe store fit you. Try on at least five pairs and walk around. Always go for the most comfortable pair. Supportive shoes aren’t just for exercise these days. Look into the many cushion-soled pairs you can wear at work.
Hit the Weights (and the Mat):
Resistance training strengthens your muscles and bones, and helps your joints in two ways. First, it lightens the load that your knee, hip and ankle joints have to carry. Each pound less that you weigh equals four pounds less of carrying weight going uphill, and seven pounds less going downhill. Resistance training increases the shock absorption and protection you get from strong muscles surrounding your joints.
By increasing the flexibility where your joint-muscle unites, you can adapt to the awkward positions life puts you in. Yoga can give you the flexibility that strength training cannot. Yoga also helps build balance, strength and elasticity. Then muscle can better absorb shock in a shorter range of motion. Spin FasterRapidly biking seems to strengthen cartilage, but without the dangerous injuries you could obtain from running and weight bearing exercises. Remember, the muscles surrounding your knee are the shock-absorbing differences between you and a squished knee. Added bonus: super-toned quadriceps.
Save Your Knees:
The best gift to give your knees (and heart and jeans)? Dropping weight. Being obese (or even overweight) can increase the risk factors of diseases and conditions, including joint pain. The extra weight can lead to faster cartilage breakdown, even in the fingers. Why? Fat is hormonally active, stimulating inflammation. This affects all your joints.The second-best gift to your knees? Being cautious with high-impact sports. Having a knee injury makes you five times more likely to develop knee arthritis later. High-intensity sports increase the risk and damage associated with osteoarthritis. This includes activities like aggressive skiing, aerobics and basketball.
Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate:
If you experience joint paint (or related strains/sprains in the surrounding soft tissue), try following the RICE protocol:1) Rest: Stay off the injured area.2) Ice: Use ice or a frozen peas bag on the area for 20 minutes, four times a day. Put it in a plastic bag and protect your skin with a thin towel. This should keep inflammation and swelling at bay.3) Compression: Support weakened tissues by wrapping the joint in an elastic bandage. Fit it snugly. But be careful not to make it so tight that it causes pain or cuts off the blood supply.4) Elevation: When at home, keep the injured body part off the ground (higher than the heart). This decreases blood flow and will prevent swelling.
Rest means taking a break from the tennis court, but doesn’t mean lounging on the couch all day. The optimal healing of cartilage and ligaments actually requires some movement. Staying stationary can lead to joint weakness, stiffness and undernourished cartilage. This means that the tendons, ligaments and supporting structures can lose form and strength.You need small movements to increase blood flow and promote healing. This biomechanical stimulation may cause some pain. The trade-off for this short-run side effect is that you’ll have optimal flexibility and strength in the long run. Many walking boots and braces now allow you to have some range of motion, for this reason.
Test Your Rotator Range:
To prevent shoulder injury, strengthen and stretch your rotator cuff muscles. To test your range of motion around the joint, stand with your arm to the side and upper arm and hand parallel to the floor (like you’re taking an oath). Without moving your upper arm, rotate your shoulder forward and backward. You should be able to get at least 180 degrees rotation. If you can’t, try a move that will give you some flexibility. Lie on your side with your upper arm on the floor and your elbow bent at a right angle. With the opposite arm, push down on your hand and hold the stretch for 30 seconds.
Work Out in Water:
Exercise in a (warm) swimming pool if it hurts too much to walk. The water’s buoyancy will take weight off your joints so you can recondition. Pool exercises can be as effective for arthritis, as land exercises. Not to mention, they’re less painful and more fun to do.
Get DHA in Fish Oil & Food:
Fish oil is good for just about every part of your body, including your joint oil. Look for fish fats in mahi-mahi and salmon. They’re also in canola oil, flaxseed, walnuts and avocados. DHA supplements and the omega-9s and/or polyphenols in olive oil are also great. Omega-3s seem to provide lubrication that the joints need to function effectively, while decreasing inflammation. With lubed joints, you have less grinding, friction and pain as you age.
READ MORE: How To Get Your Omega-3s (Not All From Fish!)
Fish oil (with DHA as the key component) and fish protein also can regenerate the meniscus membrane. This helps if you suffer a painful tear or discomfort. Try fish oil capsules if you don’t eat fish. Two grams per day is equal to 13 ounces of fish a week (and usually comes without the contaminants of some fish). If you want the active oil with even less of a chance of impurities, you can take smaller DHA capsules. Women need 400 mg and men, 600 mg. You can get these purified from algae (vegetarian or plant source). That’s where fish get these oils. If you’re taking fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin D3 and want to absorb them, you need some fat in your stomach first. So take DHA before the rest of your vitamins, to help absorb the fat-soluble ones.
Pop the Joint Savers:
Glucosamine is naturally synthesized in the body, and is critical to collagen formation and cartilage preservation. Then you can better flex and absorb shock. Glucosamine levels decrease with injury, age and stress. For this reason, you can supplement with 1,500 mg of glucosamine sulfate a day. Chondroitin is also a building block for cartilage, given at about 800 to 12,000 mg per day. Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) helps the absorption of glucosamine, while decreasing inflammation. You can add 2,500 mg to your daily supplement. You need to take these supplements for six months before deciding if they have helped. Cartilage regenerates slowly.Avocado-soybean unsaponifiables (ASU) have demonstrated some ability to decrease inflammation and stimulate cartilage growth. The studies are conflicting. Some show great benefits, while others show none. Some patients swear that these supplements have saved their joints.
Look Into Injections:
Hyaluronic Acid (HA) is a skin filler with another use. It appears to improve the synovial fluid quality, as a shock absorber and lubricant. Oral hyaluronic acid is broken into simpler substances and can’t get into the joints. The doctor has to send it there with a needle. In the form of Hyalgan or Synvisc, it coats the cartilage surface to maintain its strength. It may help to prevent inflammatory cells from entering the joint space when there’s damage.
Add Vitamins and Minerals:
Many vitamins have the ability to protect against damage to connective tissue, especially when buttressed by magnesium (400 mg daily) and calcium (600 mg twice a day). These include vitamins D3 (1,000 IU daily) and C (500 mg twice a day, less if you’re taking statin medication). People consuming lots of vitamin C have a 70 percent reduction in osteoarthritis risk. High vitamin C levels are also associated with a reduced risk of knee pain. Vitamin D3 is a very common vitamin deficiency, and it’s essential for calcium absorption.
Ask For a Cherry on Top:
Bing cherries are shown to reduce inflammation and can help with arthritis pain. They contain anti-inflammatory properties. Eat a couple of Bing cherries—dried or fresh—a day. We hear that cherry juice works, too. Add 1,000 mg of boswelia (frankincense) a day and willow bark, so you get 120 to 240 mg of the active component salicin. That’s a powerful herbal mix for settling down inflammation. Salicin is also the active component of aspirin, which can be taken by itself.
Get a Second Opinion First:
The major benefit of surgery is removing pain quickly, so you can rehab the joint immediately. An alternative for many is to skip surgery and rehab the joint immediately. This requires a gentle approach for the first two months. It’s nice to avoid losing a piece of your body, even if it’s just your meniscus. Always get a second opinion from someone not associated with the first doctor.