It doesn’t matter whether you’re a desk worker or a warehouse worker, a millennial or a Baby Boomer, an urbanite or a rural dweller. If you’re a human being, your body relies on your joints to maintain proper bodily functioning.
That means over the course of a lifetime, our joints take a beating. Not caring for your joints can lead to symptoms such as pain, discomfort, stiffness, decreased range of motion, and an increased risk of sprains, strains and dislocations, and arthritis or osteoarthritis. These symptoms can be exacerbated by common effects of aging, including decrease in muscle mass, weight gain, inflammation and past injuries.
Because aging is unavoidable (and because most of us don’t make a concerted effort to care for our joints) joint pain is incredibly common. Up to half of Americans’ visits to the doctor are driven by musculoskeletal complaints.
The only way to mitigate the effects of lifelong joint use is to take steps to care for your joints now and to maintain those strategies over the long haul. The good news is caring for your joints is actually pretty simple. Implement the following six strategies to increase your chances of maintaining pain-free joints for life.
1. Get a move on.
Regular exercise is one of the best ways to keep your joints healthy. Working out strengthens the muscles that stabilize the joints. It can facilitate weight loss, which reduces the load your joints carry each day. And it can get synovial fluid flowing around the joints, which helps prevent stiffness.
The best exercise routine for healthy joints is one that includes a mixture of cardio and strength training (more on that below). It’s also important to avoid over-exercising, which can actually exacerbate joint issues. As with so many things, balance is key.
2. Include bodyweight exercises into your routine.
Regular bodyweight training can improve your strength, increase muscle mass, reduce stress and give you an energy boost. It has also been found to reduce joint and bone pain.
Exercises such as lunges, pushups and squats are all great examples of effective bodyweight exercises. (Squats and lunges are especially helpful for protecting the knee joints.) Keep track of your progress with tools like this squat calculator so you can increase your effort at a healthy rate. It’s also a smart idea to record any changes in joint sensation during and after bodyweight exercising.
If you absolutely hate bodyweight exercises, you can reap similar benefits from a regular strength-training routine.
3. Stretch it out.
Strength is important for healthy joints, but so is flexibility. Tight muscles can place strain on your joints. So it’s important to keep your muscles as supple as possible. To do that, implement the following strategies:
- Incorporate small bits of movement throughout the day, especially if you’re a desk worker. Take the long way to the bathroom, walk to the water cooler every hour, take a stroll during your lunch break, and so on.
- Give yoga a try. Research suggests yoga is a great way to increase flexibility in the muscles and ligaments while providing additional benefits to the joints.
- Stretch every day. Even if you’re not interested in becoming a yogi, it’s still important to include stretching into your daily routine. That’s because stretching requires your muscles, ligaments and joints to move through their full ranges of motion, which improves flexibility.
4. Take pain and injuries seriously.
Exercise is hugely important for joint health. But it’s equally important to know when to back off. If you experience shooting pain during a workout (not just the sensation of your muscles working), then stop for the day to avoid damaging your joints.
If you’re injured, whether during exercise or in your daily life, properly care for your injury. Consult a medical professional, take a break from intense exercise, use ice to combat inflammation and consider using a brace until you’ve healed. Proper treatment at the time of injury will significantly reduce your risk of developing a chronic issue.
5. Set up an ergonomic workstation.
If you’re one of millions of Americans who spend most of their days in front of a computer, your joints are suffering. Reduce joint strain at work by making your workstation as ergonomic as possible. Here are a few strategies:
- Raise up your computer monitor so your neck doesn’t need to bend forward and down in order for you to look at the screen.
- Invest in a wrist rest to reduce strain on your wrists.
- Make sure your elbows can rest at a right angle by your side while you type.
6. Evaluate your footwear.
Most of us don’t spend a ton of time thinking about our shoes (except when we’re matching them to our outfit). But footwear is actually a critical component of joint health.
Any pair of shoes that you wear on a regular basis should fit you well, provide plenty of arch support, give your toes room to wiggle, and offer some cushion under the ball and heel. If you’re an athlete, you’ll probably want to replace your sneakers every six months or so to ensure they’re still providing adequate support.
The steps required to maintain your joints’ health are pretty basic. But the benefits you’ll reap from caring for your joints now are anything but. Greater mobility, flexibility and strength and a decreased risk of pain or chronic joint issues await anyone who’s willing to take good care of their joints.