One of the main misconceptions about joint pain is that it only happens to the elderly. But while severe joint pain is most common among people older than 45 (often suffering from arthritis), it can affect people of all ages.
Some lifestyle choices, exercise regimes, and even nutritional habits can lead to increased discomfort in the knees, shoulders, or hips. Moreover, genetics also play a role in joint health, with small asymmetries in the musculoskeletal structure contributing to excess wear and tear. Fortunately, however, there are effective ways of strengthening your joints and muscles that will help manage pain or at least prevent it from getting worse.
This article includes several hacks for taking better care of your joints, whether you’re an avid runner, someone who enjoys yoga, or generally a couch potato. Of course, if you do suffer from any type of pain, make sure to consult your doctor before applying any of these. They’ll be able to perform the tests and imaging necessary to diagnose any underlying issues that may be causing your aches.
One of the first instincts people with weak or painful joints have is to avoid exercise altogether to prevent any possible injuries. But the thing is, this type of approach could very well lead to more problems down the road.
Without engaging in physical movement, we are allowing our muscles to become weaker, which eventually leads to a higher likelihood of joint trauma. Of course, this isn’t to say everyone should take up a high-impact sport and punish their body. Absolutely not. But, some well-thought-out exercise is highly beneficial for strengthening joints.
Incorporate more movement into your everyday life.
Most people don’t move enough. But, you’ll find that the CDC recommendations for adults are far from too much. On average, an adult should aim to do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio exercise (like brisk walking) combined with two sessions of strength training per week. In practice, this boils down to a 30-minute walk five days a week, and two strength-training sessions, whether at home or at the gym.
Warm up and cool down.
Before you jump into an all-out training session, always ensure that your body is warmed up. Take a brisk walk, roll out your muscles, do a bit of cycling, do a few sun salutations, or some light (and safe) stretching exercises. After you’re done with your workout, stretch out your muscles, allowing them to relax and recover faster.
Strengthen the muscles around your joints.
One of the main reasons behind joint pain is often that the surrounding muscles are too weak (or asymmetrically developed) to hold up the skeletal structure. And an easy fix for this is to strengthen those muscles. For knee pain, focus on the quadriceps, hamstrings, and inner thighs. If your shoulders hurt, you can do some shoulder circles, plank variations, push-ups, or even practice yoga. Make sure to remain mindful of your body’s limitations and to take things one step at a time. This way, you’ll be building strength in a safe, pain-free way.
Lighten the load.
If you feel like most traditional workouts are too much, start things slow. Swimming, for example, is one of the perfect activities for people with joint pain because it builds muscle and endurance, all the while eliminating impact. Or, if you’re more of a gym rat, see whether working with lower weights feels better.
Now, this one seems a bit difficult to do, considering that most of us work desk jobs. But that shouldn’t prevent us from taking the right steps to protect and strengthen our joints. Take regular breaks (every 20 to 40 minutes would be ideal), and spend some time moving. Whether you go to the water cooler to grab a drink, do some squats and push-ups, or even a few office-friendly stretches, you’ll find that it will definitely help you feel better. Moreover, consider alternating between a sitting and standing desk, and remind yourself not to slouch so that your spine, shoulders, and neck are happy and healthy.
In addition to physically strengthening your joints, remember that what you eat will impact their health as well. The Western diet that’s filled with highly processed, prepackaged foods is notorious for causing inflammation that can contribute to joint pain. And something as simple as switching to a more healthful way of eating may help you get rid of any discomfort.
On the whole, there are several nutrition hacks you can use to ensure your joints are as strong as possible.
Fruits and vegetables
Fresh produce is filled with vitamins and minerals, helping your body get all the micronutrients it needs to function. So, the easiest hack you can start implementing is to eat more veggies. In fact, research shows that cruciferous vegetables are particularly beneficial to anyone suffering from joint pain, seeing that they significantly reduce inflammation in the body.
Fatty fish & olive oil
Rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, healthy fats also contribute to lowering inflammation in the body and are often prescribed as a supplement to people who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis. However, you don’t have to take a pill to get your fair share of Omega 3s. Including fish like salmon, herring, and sardines, as well as olive oil and avocados in your diet is an excellent way to support joint health.
One of the commonly overlooked micronutrients that contributes to strong bones and joints is vitamin D, which helps your bones absorb calcium. Thus, it is the key to preventing osteoporosis as well as managing the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. While a small amount of vitamin D is available from foods, the best way to get enough is sun exposure. Alternatively, you can talk to your doctor about getting a supplement, which can also help, especially if your levels are already deficient.
Joint health-specific supplements
There’s a lot of research going on about what supplements could help ease joint pain. Glucosamine, chondroitin, and sermorelin are all popular options. However, make sure to review the pros and cons before you buy them, as the gains may not always outweigh the side effects. For a more natural approach, you can also add turmeric to your diet, or look for a supplement that contains turmerosaccharides.
Once you’ve got your exercise routine and your nutrition under control, it’s time to guarantee that all your lifestyle habits support strong and healthy joints. Fortunately, all of these are easy habit changes that won’t cause you too much trouble. But, overall, they might end up helping quite a bit.
Mind your sitting position.
If you’re having knee or hip trouble, you might be putting too much pressure on these parts of your body. When you sit at your desk, remind yourself that your legs shouldn’t be crossed. Furthermore, try to keep the angle of your knees at more than 90 degrees, as this will prevent any blood flow restriction that might lead to cartilage damage down the road.
Wear comfortable & supportive shoes.
Most of us want to look great, but choosing footwear that’s too tight or unsupportive may cause alignment issues in the knees, hips, and back. For everyday wear, opt for a pair of shoes with plenty of toe room. Furthermore, prioritize proper arch support for your foot type, and enough cushioning to protect your joints when standing and walking.
Manage your weight.
Finally, remember that your muscles, bones, and joints need to carry all your weight. And if that weight gets to be too much, you might be looking at premature tissue deterioration. So, consider taking some steps to keep your weight as healthy as possible. This doesn’t mean going on restrictive diets, or sacrificing your overall health, but rather combining a healthy way of eating with some moderate exercise. In the end, this will protect your joints and make you feel great in all areas of your life.
In the end, there are no shortcuts to strengthening your joints. Overall, your musculoskeletal health depends on your eating and exercise regime, as well as a couple of lifestyle habits.
So, if you’re looking for ways to strengthen your joints, try to approach the situation from a sustainability standpoint. What are the practices you can commit to maintaining every day? Is starting a rigorous gym routine a viable option, or should you try and start small? Are you willing to change your diet, or are you more comfortable with adding a few healthy foods, one at a time?
Whatever path you choose, remember that you’re doing this for yourself. So make sure that the plan is right for your needs and that it works well with any diagnoses that may be causing your joint pain in the first place.