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10 Habits That Can Wreck Joint Health

By Camille Pagan
WebMD Feature

You know high heels might cause achy joints. But those aren’t the only things that aren't so good for your joints. What you do -- or don't do -- every day can make a big difference in how your joints feel and function, both now and in the long term.

Here are 10 habits that you should break, for your joints' sake.  

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1. Nonstop texting (and other repetitive activities)

Typing, texting on your phone, dicing food, and other activities that make you repeat the same motion over and over can tax larger joints like your shoulder, as well as smaller joints like your thumbs.

The solution is simple: Take a break every 2 to 3 minutes, says Zacharia Isaac, MD, medical director of Brigham and Women's Multidisciplinary Spine Center. Try to avoid the activity if the joints it uses already don't feel so great. For example, call instead of texting, and use a headset if your conversation will last more than 5 minutes.

2. Taking it too easy

Just about everyone needs to move more. It's not only about exercise; it's about not sitting still for too long.

Remaining in the same position for long periods of time can tire your muscles and strain your joints and cartilage, in part because blood flow to these areas can go down when you’re not moving. “If you’re standing, reading, or working at a computer, be sure to stretch or shift positions every 10 to 15 minutes,” Isaac says.

3. Toting a too-heavy purse or backpack

Loading too much into your bag can alter your posture and walking stride, strain the muscles and joints in your neck, and even press on your shoulder joints, compressing delicate nerves, says Michael Perry, MD, medical director of the Laser Spine Institute.

“Weigh your purse when it’s full,” Perry says. "It should be no more than 5% of your body weight." If you weigh 140 pounds, that’s 7 pounds.

If you wear a backpack, those distribute weight more evenly than a purse, so you can carry more weight in them. But if it feels uncomfortable, or causes you pain or soreness, it's too heavy, Perry says.

4. Not strength-training

Of all exercise, strength training can be especially protective, because it builds and strengthens supportive muscles around the joints. For example, working your quads can help protect your knees, says Abby Goulder-Abelson, MD, rheumatology department chair at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.

Abelson recommends strength training a few times a week. You can lift weights or do exercises that use your body weight for resistance. Those include Pilates and yoga, though some forms of yoga may be too gentle to be effective for strength training, Abelson says.

New to exercise, or unsure if you’re exercising safely? Seek out a certified personal trainer or a physical therapist to create a workout plan for you.

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