By Kevin F. Bonner, MD, FAAOS
With an average life expectancy of more than 70 years, it’s more important than ever for us to protect our bodies. I’m specifically talking about preserving our joints so we can lead active and productive lives longer.
Many of my patients who experience some joint pain rightfully ask, ‘what can I do to keep my joints healthy for life?’ Great question!
Lifestyle changes can definitely make a difference. Being fit is one of the best precautions against joint issues. Studies are confirming what we’ve suspected for a long time—muscles in mint condition can help to keep joints stable and decrease stress on cartilage.
We also now know that one of the greatest stresses on joints and an added risk for arthritis is simply weight. Because of how our knees work, every extra pound of weight puts six to seven times that pressure on our knees. Take for example someone who is just 10 pounds overweight. When climbing stairs, that person is putting an extra 70 pounds of pressure on their knees. Over time, the added pressure can wear down the important cartilage of the knee and can ultimately cause bone on bone contact of osteoarthritis. Losing weight is one lifestyle change that could decrease your chances of the crippling knee pain of arthritis.
Another group of patients who begin to feel joint pain are ex-athletes who have suffered from sports-related injuries. People who have suffered a tear to a ligament within their knee known as the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) or who have had a damaged crescent-shaped cartilage removed are more likely to develop arthritis. Studies show people with these injuries are at much greater risk of developing arthritis later in life, even 15 years after the injury.
High impact exercises are those in which both feet leave the ground at the same time. These exercises can help strengthen bones and muscles but can also aggravate knee symptoms if you’re cartilage is deteriorating. For patients with some cartilage deterioration or those at greater risk for developing arthritis, I may suggest curtailing activities that put added strain on the joints. Of course, staying fit is a priority, but some lower impact exercises may be added to your fitness regime like swimming, biking, and elliptical trainer so you can still stay in shape while putting less strain on your knees. Avoiding squats and lunge type exercises are also better if you are getting arthritis or even pain under the kneecap area.
Some patients ask about medications. Certainly, anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen have a place in managing joint pain. Other patients are convinced glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate help their pain. However, one of the largest and best-designed clinical trials called the Glucosamine/chondroitin Arthritis Intervention Trial (GAIT) funded by the National Institutes of Health, suggests otherwise. This study finds that neither supplement—glucosamine or chondroitin—reduce osteoarthritis knee pain more than a placebo.
Overall, staying fit, losing weight and limiting damaging activities are the best way to care for your joints for a lifetime.
When to seek care?
Don’t wait too long. Sometimes, irreversible damage is done the longer patients wait to seek treatment. Consider seeking care when:
An incident or event causes a joint to lock or pop. This is a signal of a possible mechanical issue with the joint.
A particular incident causes significant pain and swelling
Deformities worsen. For example, if being knock-kneed or bow legged becomes more severe.
When your range of motion is decreasing. Maintaining range of motion is important as you get older.
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- Dr Kevin F. Bonner, MD, FAAOS
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