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Slideshow: Tips to Keep Joints Healthy
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Move to Help Prevent Joint Pain
Keep joints healthy by keeping them moving. The more you move, the less stiffness you'll have. Whether you're reading, working, or watching TV, change positions often. Take breaks from your desk or chair and move around.
Joint Pain and Arthritis
With overuse or injury, cartilage on the end of the joints can break down, causing a narrowing of the joint space and bones to rub together. Painful bony growths, or spurs, may form. This can lead to swelling, stiffness, and possibly osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis. Another type of arthritis is rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease characterized by extreme inflammation.
Protect Your Body and Joints
Injury can damage joints. So protecting them your whole life is important. Wear protective gear like elbow and knee pads when taking part in high-risk activities like skating. If your joints are already aching, consider wearing braces when playing tennis or golf.
Healthy Weight for Healthy Joints
Joints hurting? Lose just a few pounds and you'll take some strain off your hips, knees, and back. Extra pounds add to the load placed on these joints, increasing the risk of cartilage breakdown. Even a little weight loss can help. Every pound you lose takes four pounds of pressure off the knees.
Don't Stretch Before Exercise
Many arthritis experts believe that stretching is the most important type of exercise. Try to stretch daily but at least three times a week. However, it's important that you don't stretch cold muscles. Do a light warm up before stretching to loosen up the joints, ligaments, and tendons around them.
Low-Impact Exercise for Joints
What exercise is good? To protect your joints, the best choices are low-impact options like walking, bicycling, and swimming. That's because high-impact, pounding, and jarring exercise can increase the risk of joint injuries and may slowly cause cartilage damage. Light weight-lifting exercises should also be included. But if you already have arthritis, first speak with your doctor.
Strengthen Muscles Around Joints
Stronger muscles around joints mean less stress on those joints. Research shows that having weak thigh muscles increases the risk of knee osteoarthritis, for example. Even small increases in muscle strength can reduce that risk. Avoid rapid and repetitive motions of affected joints.
Full Range of Motion is Key
Move joints through their full range of motion to reduce stiffness and keep them flexible. Range of motion refers to the normal extent joints can be moved in certain directions. If you have arthritis, your doctor or physical therapist can recommend daily range-of-motion exercises.
Strengthen Your Core
How can strong abs help protect joints? Stronger abs and back muscles help with balance. The more balanced you are, the less likely you are to damage your joints with falls or other injuries. So include core (abdominal, back, and hips) strengthening exercises in your routine.
Know Your Joints' Limits
It's normal to have some aching muscles after exercising. But if pain lasts longer than 48 hours, you may have overstressed your joints. Don't exercise so hard next time. Working through the pain may lead to injury or damage.
Eat Fish to Reduce Inflammation
If you have joint pain from rheumatoid arthritis (RA), eat more fish. Fatty coldwater fish like salmon and mackerel are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s may help keep joints healthy, as well as reduce inflammation, a cause of joint pain and tenderness in people with RA. Don't like fish? Try fish oil capsules instead.
Drink Milk to Keep Bones Strong
Calcium and vitamin D help keep bones strong. Strong bones can keep you on your feet, and prevent falls that can damage joints. Dairy products are the best sources of calcium, but other options are green, leafy vegetables like broccoli and kale. If you don't get enough calcium through diet, ask your doctor about supplements.
Protect Joints With Good Posture
Stand and sit up straight. Good posture protects joints all the way from the neck down to your knees. One easy way to improve posture is by walking. The faster you walk, the harder your muscles work to keep you upright. Swimming can also improve posture.
Be Careful Lifting and Carrying
Consider your joints when lifting and carrying. Carry bags on your arms instead of with your hands to let bigger muscles and joints support the weight.
Use Ice for Joint Pain
Ice is a natural -- and free -- pain reliever. It numbs pain and helps relieve swelling. If you have a sore joint, apply a cold pack or ice wrapped in a towel. Leave it on for up to 20 minutes at a time. Don't have ice or a cold pack? Try a bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a towel. Never apply ice directly to the skin.
Glucosamine for Knee OA
Glucosamine is a natural chemical compound found in healthy joint cartilage. Some studies have shown glucosamine -- combined with chondroitin -- may provide some relief for moderate to severe pain caused by knee OA. Yet the results of other studies have been mixed.
Other Supplements for Joint Pain?
Health food stores are filled with supplements promising to relieve joint pain. In addition to glucosamine, the best scientific evidence is for SAMe. Some studies have even shown it to work better than anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen, naproxen) for osteoarthritis pain. Acupuncture is another complementary therapy that may also help. Talk to your doctor if you want to give supplements a try as they may interact with other drugs.
Treat Joint Injuries
Physical trauma can contribute to cartilage breakdown and OA. If you injure a joint, see your doctor right away for treatment. Then take steps to avoid more damage. You may need to avoid activities that overstress the joint or use a brace to stabilize it.
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Arthritis Today: "What is Osteoarthritis?"
University of Virginia Health System: "Knee Pain and Problems."
The Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center: "Osteoarthritis Weight Management."
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Weight-Control Information Network: "Do You Know the Risks of Being Overweight?"
The Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center: "Role of Exercise in the Management of Arthritis."
The Associated Press: "Experts: Forget Pre-Work Out Stretching."
University of Washington School of Medicine: "Exercise and Arthritis."
Arthritis Today: "Fatty Acid Benefits: How Omega-3s Reduce Inflammation."
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center: "Osteoarthritis."
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: "Glucosamine/Chondroitin Arthritis Intervention Trial (GAIT)."
University of Maryland Medical Center: "Sulfur."
American Council on Exercise: "Injury May Increase Risk of Osteoarthritis."
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.