Rocking all the joints!
Over the last several months we have been hosting a ‘Successful Aging’ series of talks at the Via Linda Senior Center in Scottsdale, AZ. The response has been so positive that we are extending the series by popular request! Because of this I thought it would be a good idea to occasionally post a brief summary of our talks there as a good source of information not all related to strength but all related to the STRIVE philosophy. So say hello to a new occasional series we are calling ”STRIVE Sources”. The first of which relates to joint health. Here we go ….
As Sting famously sings, ”every step you take, and every move you make …” , there is a joint involved (Ok Sting didn’t sing about joints but I couldn’t resist the reference). Joints are an always switched on, always active and always essential part of daily living. In fact we don’t leave home without them! Perhaps in part because of this nonstop motion, they are also one of the most frequent reasons for doctors visits – up to a third of which are for muscle and joint (or ‘musculo-skeletal’) pain. Joint pain, much of which is generally the result of osteoarthritis, can affect anyone and typically starts as our bodies begin to show the effects of aging. Its effect is all the more noticeable with ‘Usual Aging’ which I have discussed in this blog many times before.
Osteoarthritis is felt as different things by different people. In women, it occurs more frequently after age 50, and is likely to develop in the hands, knees, ankles, or feet. In men, it occurs more frequently before age 45 and is likely to develop in the wrists, hips, or spine. The good news is that joint pain is not inevitable with aging and there are a number of things, described below, that you can do to encourage and maintain joint health.
But first – a quick ‘Cliffs Notes’ overview of joints and their major components.
Every joint has the same make up – only the way they operate may differ. For example shoulders work more like a ball-and-socket, while knees work more like a door hinge. All joints have the same basic function: They connect one bone to another and give us the ability to bend, twist and shout, and wave our hands (or anything else) in the air.
Without going into too much detail, the main components of joints are: -
- Connective Tissue – AKA Ligaments and Muscles. The ligaments provide an extremely strong ‘connection’ between one bone and the next. The muscles also ‘connect’ bones but mainly provide the means for movement. In other words the ligaments provide joint stability and the muscles provide joint movement.
- Cartilage - AKA ‘The Smooth Cushioner’. Cartilage is a tough, fibrous, disc-shaped piece of tissue that acts as a cushion between joints. Because it is also somewhat elastic, it acts as a shock absorber to prevent bones from grinding against each other. Osteoarthritis appears when we start to lose that cushioning, and a number of things can contribute to the loss, often all at the same time. Here’s a list of the ‘usual suspects’.
Aging: Cartilage thins as we age and over time the surface of cartilage can change from smooth to irregular and rough. That’s when you start to notice …. those things that you once took for granted. Remember getting out of the chair or getting up the stairs?. You used to do these things without much thought … but now …. ?
Previous injuries: Even if you didn’t think much of them at the time, seemingly minor joint injuries when you were younger can sometimes be the reason for joint pain in later life. They can cause microscopic injuries to muscles and ligaments (known as ‘microtraumas’) which then produce joint pain ‘down the line’.
Inflammation: Small injuries (microtraumas) can upset the biomechanics of your joints. This, in turn, changes the internal make up of the cartilage. These microtraumas can produce low levels of inflammation which then release chemicals that are damaging to joints over time.
Muscle loss: Muscles help to support joints. The less muscle you have, the less strength you have and the less support you are able to give to the joints. Because of this they are far more likely to be damaged (and damaged earlier) by the constant impacts and ’poundings’ they recieve from even normal daily living.
Excess weight: More weight = more work for the joint = more damage (and more microtraumas) in the long run. This is especially true for knees, which have to support your body weight.
Ok so now you know the issues – here are some options for doing something about them.
Healthy Joints for Healthy living.
For joint health it’s mostly about the cartilage, and while current thinking is that you can’t bring back cartilage that’s already lost (research on the two most well known osteoarthritis treatments chondroitin and glucosamine is, at best, inconclusive), there are several options you can choose that have been shown to either prevent the wear and tear, or reduce the pain associated with osteoarthritis.
Stay at a healthy weight. This is probably your best option for joint health. Staying at a healthy weight will help reduce the microtraumas that damage cartilage. Research reports that a weight loss of as little as 11 pounds can reduce arthritis pain by about 50 percent for many women. Weight loss (if you are already overweight) may also help slow the progression of osteoarthritis over time.
Stay active. Physical activity helps reduce stiffness in the joints. Low- or no-impact aerobic exercises like swimming, walking, or cycling twice a week or so is ideal. Strength exercises too are particularly effective for reducing symptoms of osteoarthritis (see below). When mixed with stretching and relaxation exercises, these make up a highly pro-active approach for keeping joints working their best.
Stay strong. Muscles help to support joints. The more muscle you have – the more potential muscle strength you have – and the more you will be able to absorb the impacts and ‘poundings’ of daily living. This produces less stress on the joints. Less joint stress = more joint health! Weight training strengthens the muscles and ligaments that surround joints. Our STRIVE program has been shown to be highly successful at this.
Stay cool. Some people experience pain, swelling or discomfort after exercise. If this applies to you, icing your joints for 10 minutes or so after the activity can help. When you exercise, a lubricant called synovial fluid is drawn into your joints. However, if the fluid sticks around too long after exercise, it can cause cracks in the cartilage. Ice helps to move the fluid out of the joint and into the lymphatic system, the garbage disposal of the body.
Stay with a good diet. Studies show that the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish can not only help to reduce symptoms of joint pain but also slow or reduce the levels of inflammation that may be causing some of the pain. The best sources are fish such as salmon and tuna. Research also shows that 400 to 800 International Units (IUs) of daily vitamin D may also protect your joints by preventing or reducing inflamation. As a comparison, one cup of milk contains 100 IUs of Vitamin D and three ounces of salmon contains 300-650 IUs of Vitamin D.
There are many supplements that may promote joint health in a variety of ways. While ‘the jury is still out’ on the scientific backing to these claims here’s a list of the most well known. Talk to your physician or nutritionist for more details – or just post a comment/question on this site.
- Flax seed - Flax seed and flax seed oil contain alpha-linolenic acid (a good source of Omega-3′s), which has been reported to reduce inflammation and pain in the joints.
- Fish oil and Cod liver oil - Fish oil contains EPA and DHA, two Omega-3 fatty acids that have been reported to reduce joint inflammation. It has also been claimed that Cod liver oil may help in the regeneration of cartilage tissue within the body.
- Glucosamine and Chondroitin - These substances make up the type of cartilage that is found in joints. There is some indication that taking a supplement with both glucosamine and chondroitin may help increase the rate of new cartilage being formed in the joints, though the research at present is still not conclusive.
- Vitamin D – This vitamin is showing promise in the treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). A recent study showed that women with the highest amount of Vitamin D in their diets had the lowest incidence of RA.