Head, shoulders, knees and toes – knees and toes! Why don’t they sing about our joints – the cartilage between the bone that provides a “cushion” and allows the bones to glide over each other? What happens when this cushion wears away? It is not uncommon to have joint issues be the limiting factor for maintaining our independence later in life.
Joints, which connect our bones and allow them to move, are essential for mobility. As we get older, the cartilage wears away or thins, and as we lose the cartilage cushion, the nerves in our bones report pain in response to increased stress on weight bearing and motion.
Next time someone tells you, “Don’t pop your knuckles, you’ll get arthritis!” let them know that’s only a myth. Our medical expert on all things orthopedics, Samuel Jarrett, MD, shares four ways to keep joints healthy as you age, including the key to healthy joints.
1. Diet and Nutrition
The biggest factors within our control to maintaining joint health are body weight and eating a well-balanced diet. Foods that promote joint health are high in omega 3 and vitamin D, such as salmon, sardines, cod, flax and walnuts, as well as vegetables such as sweet peppers, broccoli, onions and mushrooms. Foods that aren’t doing your joints any good are fast food, sugary food, soda, fried food and alcohol.
2. Exercise and Physical Activity
Physical activity is important for healthy joints because it strengthens muscles and reduces the strain on the cartilage between the bones. Exercising regularly can help maintain or lessen your body weight. Each pound of body weight someone loses reduces the load on the knee joint by four pounds. Surprisingly to what most people think, a well-done study evaluated the incidence of knee arthritis in runners and nonrunners, and the results show there was no difference.
If you are not able to exercise regularly or with high intensity, eat well and focus on how you fuel your body, and try and get in low-impact exercise, such as the stationery bike, water aerobics and upper extremity exercises.
3. Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation
When joint pain may be causing you significant discomfort, it’s easy to want a quick fix, but physical therapy is something that can help you improve mobility as you heal and strengthen with consistency, dedication and time. Physical therapy and rehabilitation helps regain strength and flexibility in the muscles and joints. Having the right balance of strength and flexibility between joints and muscle groups is important for proper joint mechanics.
4. Knee or Hip Replacement Surgery
When much of your day revolves around minimizing use of your hip or knee, it may be time to consider joint replacement. Joint replacement is typically necessary when pain keeps you from sleeping, doing the things you enjoy or performing routine activities. Joint replacement surgery typically results in greatly reduced pain and enables individuals to return to regular activity with an improved quality of life. Individuals who have joint replacement surgery recover faster and experience better outcomes than ever before. With improvements in patient education, minimally invasive procedures, physical therapy and pain management, many patients are able to return to sports such as golf, swimming and tennis. Every person is different, and your doctor will carefully discuss with you which activities you may safely participate in.
All surgery decisions are relative and specific to the individual’s needs. If joint replacement surgery isn’t right for you, consider ultrasound-guided joint injection, viscosupplementation, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory, orthotic and assistive devices or weight loss.
When to Seek Care or a Doctor
Common joint issues are osteoarthritis (age-related loss of cartilage), meniscus tears, strains of ligaments and fractures. People should see a doctor if they are experiencing pain or discomfort that does not improve with reasonable rest, ice or over-the-counter pain medication.