Chronic issues caused by joint pain are incredibly common, especially as we age. In the United States, for example, 24% of all adults have arthritis. In a recent survey conducted by the CDC, over one-third of respondents noted joint pain within the last month (with knee and shoulder pain particularly common).
In short, it’s very likely you will come across joint pain of some form at some point in your life. Some issues have genetic causes, while others are exacerbated by lifestyle. If you would like to help prevent or manage joint problems, try and incorporate the following:
Physical Activity is Important
It’s important that you stay active, not just for your general health, but also to help with existing and future joint problems. Exercise will help maintain strength in the muscles around the joints, while also decreasing the rate of bone loss.
Further, and perhaps counterintuitively, exercise controls the pain and swelling experienced in the joint. Not only that, regular activity, even at low levels, will lubricate the cartilage around the joints, which minimizes pain and stiffness.
Wait, Isn’t Exercise Bad for Joints?
There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to exercise and joint pain. Many people assume that exercise is bad for your joints, for example. And while this can be true in certain circumstances, the situation is far more nuanced and complex.
The joints in our bodies are biomechanical, which means that there is an element of self-healing. Cartilage, for example, is designed to cope with a wide range of activities and pressure. And while this doesn’t mean we can throw absolutely everything at our joints, an exercise program will definitely help your joints.
However, be aware that certain exercises can be problematic, as they place high stress on specific joints. These include activities such as football, soccer, and basketball. This is partly due to the sudden changes of direction these sports require, often leading to ACL injuries, which have been shown to increase osteoarthritis risk.
But Running is Definitely Out, Right?
Studies support that exercise does not have a significant correlation with osteoarthritis. In fact, one particular study showed an inverse relationship. Running, long maligned for its supposed negative effects on the joints, has also been shown not to lead to osteoarthritis.
There is increasing evidence that regular running can actually help with joint pain long-term, as it helps to strengthen and protect the joint. You also get all of the benefits exercise gives you, of course.
The bad reputation is a result of several reasons. First, people often run with bad form and even worse shoes. Second, they’ll run on uneven surfaces. Last, runners will often not listen to their bodies and will overexert themselves, resulting in injury and potential joint problems.
Incorporate Strength and Stretching Exercises
In addition to incorporating regular cardio to your routine, it’s also important that you stretch properly and ensure you also stay strong. Strength training helps to provide support and stability, protecting your joints from damage.
You should pay particular attention to your core muscles, focusing on training your back, abs, and chest muscles. This will help prevent issues with form, balance, and potential accidents during exercise.
Weight Management = Essential
Most people don’t want to hear this, but being overweight is not good for the joints. And sadly, all it takes is being just a few pounds overweight. For example, being just ten pounds over what you should be will increase the force on your joints by as much as fifty pounds.
According to Stephen Messier, the director of the JB Snow Biomedicals Lab at Wake Forest University, the sharp rise of osteoarthritis is directly attributable to the alarming increase in obesity. It’s also not just because of the increased load, but the additional fat will help destroy your remaining cartilage.
In addition to keeping your weight at healthy levels, don’t forget about your diet. Lean proteins, for instance, will help you build muscle. Foods that are rich in Vitamin D and calcium will also help maintain bone strength. Fish is also extremely important, as the omega-3 fatty acids will assist with inflammation in the body.
Small Changes Make a Big Difference
Dealing with joint problems can be difficult, particularly if you are already in chronic pain. However, the positive angle is this: just making a few small changes can transform your health.
For example, losing just ten pounds can reduce the load on your joints by fifty pounds. It works both ways! And you don’t need to make your life revolve around exercise either; just incorporating half an hour a day can work wonders.
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