Millions of Americans suffer from joint-related issues like arthritis, a condition in which one or more of the joints are inflamed. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention projects that 67 million American adults will be living with arthritis by the year 2030. On the flip side, many people without arthritis continue to harm and injure their joints without even knowing it. Being overweight, lifting heavy objects, and poor posture can contribute to joint damage.
Here are seven common ways you can protect your joint health:
1. Maintain a Healthy Weight
Being overweight puts extra pressure on your joints, particularly the knees, which bears the brunt of your body mass. Excess weight compresses the cartilage beyond its normal capacity and the joints begin to weaken and become damaged. For people with rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease that causes joint inflammation, excess weight can make joint pain even worse.
2. Warm Up
Working out is a great way to keep joints healthy, but skipping the warm up beforehand can do some damage. Warming up gets blood flowing throughout the body and to the joints, preventing them from locking up and corroding, which can lead to injury.
A proper warm-up consists of stretching and walking or jogging at a slow pace for at least five minutes before exercising. You may also wish to apply heat directly to your joints beforehand to help loosen them up.
3. Wear Protective Gear
It’s hard to imagine driving in a car without a seat belt these days. Protecting yourself while you’re biking, rollerblading, skiing, and participating in other high-risk activities where you may be prone to falling is just as important.
“Direct trauma to our joints is a common way to cause damage to cartilage,” says Claudette M. Lajam, MD, assistant professor of orthopedic surgery and chief safety officer at NYU Langone Hospital for joint diseases. “Once damaged, cartilage can then wear and lead to pain and stiffness. Wearing protective equipment reduces trauma to joints, which in turn, can delay or prevent wear and tear,” says Dr. Lajam. Protect your joints using proper equipment like kneepads, elbow pads, and wrist guards.
4. Go Easy on Yourself
Participating in extreme or demanding sports or activities before your body is ready can be harmful to your joints. When trying new physical activities, take it slow and gradually increase your distance over time so your body is getting better conditioned.
Determining when you are overusing your muscles can be tricky, but if you feel pain while participating in a physical activity, don’t ignore it. Take a break and if it persists, speak to your doctor.
5. Correctly Lift Heavy Objects
In addition to back problems, lifting heavy items or, more importantly, lifting them improperly can lead to joint damage. Heavy objects put excess strain on the joints, making them more susceptible to injury and damage. People whose occupation requires them to lift heavy objects regularly are at a greater risk of injury and joint damage.
To lift a heavy item safely, bend your hips and knees to squat down to the item, keep it close to your body, and straighten your legs to lift. Never attempt to lift by bending forward or raise a heavy load about shoulder level. If you feel pain when lifting, ask for help or try sliding it, if that is an option.
6. Practice Good Posture
Having good posture means you sit, stand, and walk in a way that your skeleton is aligned, your weight is evenly distributed, and your body is balanced. Poor posture shifts this balance and puts unnecessary weight on your joints. Over time, this excess stress can lead to damage and joint pain.
Practice good posture by sitting and standing up straight with squared shoulders and your chest out, stomach in, and feet facing forward.
7. Keep Joints Healthy
Non-modifiable risk factors like genetics, age, and gender can also contribute to joint damage. However, there are steps you can take to keep joints healthy. “Unfortunately, there is no magic pill to prevent arthritis,” Lajam says. Foods rich in calcium and vitamin D also promote bone strength and may help prevent arthritis. You can also cut your arthritis risk by dropping bad habits like smoking and excessively drinking alcohol. Finally, remaining active and exercising regularly can go a long way to improve health and protect joints, says Lajam.
ProOrtho has locations in Kirkland, Seattle, Redmond and Monroe. Visit ProOrtho’s website or call to schedule an appointment with one of our physicians at 425.823.4000. You can also email them at ProOrthoAppointment@proliancesurgeons.com.