Seven Ways To Avoid Joint Pain, According To An Orthopedist

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Do you suffer from joint pain? Well, you are not alone. Findings from the University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging published last year found about 70 percent of people over 50 experience joint pain at least occasionally.

Joints are those parts of our body where bones meet, and most are mobile to allow movement. They can bear weight and prevent friction as the bones move against one another. However, joint pain can be felt throughout the body and can sometimes be a symptom of many different types of health conditions.

Here, Newsweek speaks to a spine specialist to find out what to do when you have joint pain and—how you can prevent it.

What Causes Joint Pain?

According to Dr. Georgiy Brusovanik, orthopedist and spine specialist at Spine Doctor Miami, joint pain is quite a common issue as individuals inevitably undergo joint degeneration through the natural aging process. However, the precise factors determining why some joints hurt and others don’t remain unclear.

He told Newsweek: “Recent research has shed light on the role of metalloproteinases in influencing joint pain. Metalloproteinases are specialized cellular teams that play a crucial role in clearing degenerative debris. In the early stages of osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, these cells exhibit heightened activity, demonstrating a significant correlation with the manifestation of joint pain.”

Common Causes Of Joint Pain

According to the Cleveland Clinic, a common reason behind joint pain is osteoarthritis, which is a type of arthritis that happens over time when your cartilage—the protective cushion positioned between your bones—wears out, making your joints become painful and stiff. This condition usually occurs after the age of 45.

Stock image of a woman experiencing joint pain. An orthopedic from Miami explains how to avoid joint pain with exercise.

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Rheumatoid arthritis is another possible reason behind joint pain. It’s a chronic disease that causes swelling and pain in your joints, often deforming them, and it usually affects fingers and wrists.

Meanwhile, Bursitis can be another common factor. An inflammation of the bursae, a fluid-filled sac that works as a cushion to reduce friction between tissues of the body, occurs through overuse. It’s usually found in your hip, knee, elbow or shoulder.

Joint pain can also be caused by tendinitis, an inflammation of your tendons, which are the flexible bands of tissue that connect bone and muscle, and it usually affects your elbow, heel, or shoulder.

And don’t forget to rule out gout, a painful condition where acidic crystals from your body collect in your joints, causing severe pain and swelling. It often affects your big toe.

How Can You Prevent Joint Pain?

Maintaining cartilage health is crucial for overall joint function and can contribute to preventing joint pain and stiffness. According to Dr. Brusovanik, preventing joint pain involves adopting a proactive approach to overall joint health. Below are some of his recommendations.

1. Maintaining a Healthy Weight

Excess weight on your body puts additional stress on the joints, particularly in the knees, hips, and lower back, making them more likely to get damaged from overuse.

2. Exercise Regularly

Regular, low-impact exercises that strengthen the muscles surrounding the joints and promote joint flexibility and strength can help reduce the risk of joint injuries too, says Dr. Brusovanik. “Activities such as swimming, walking, and cycling are good low-impact options that are ‘joint-friendly’ and also help maintain cartilage health,” he said.

3. Eat a Balanced Diet

Having a diet with a variety of nutrients and high in antioxidants, including vitamins and minerals, is also essential for joint and cartilage health. Omega 3 fatty acids found in fish, like salmon, mackerel, and trout, and certain nuts can also help reduce inflammation.

4. Maintain Good Posture

Maintaining good posture avoids unnecessary strain on your joints, including those in your spine and knees. This is especially important when lifting heavy objects such as when one engages in weight training to avoid joint strain or injury.

5. Wear Joint Protection

If you’re a sporty person, you may also want to protect your joints. When engaging in activities that may cause stress, you should use protective gear or joint-supporting devices such as knee braces. Dr. Brusovanik also suggests avoiding high-impact activities. For example, when exercising, be mindful of exercises that involve a lot of jumping on hard surfaces with force hitting the ground. “This can strain your tendons and cause overuse in your knee joints, also known as ‘jumper’s knee.’ Include exercises that promote joint flexibility and range of motion such as stretching and yoga,” he added.

6. Stay Hydrated

Staying hydrated is essential for joint health, in fact, water helps to lubricate the joints and keeps cartilage healthy. Dr. Brusovanik said: “Hydration plays a crucial function in maintaining muscles, which are what move the joints so it’s all related. Water helps deliver protein and glycogen structures to muscles and helps encourage muscle gain. Strong muscles lead to healthy joints and strong muscles require adequate hydration.”

7. Avoid Overuse

As Dr. Brusovanik explains, repetitive motion (overuse) may result in an asymmetrical cartilage loss which can lead directly to pain and stiffness in the joints. “As such, it is a good idea to keep the joints moving but maintaining a normal range of motion and within the common physiological quantities of motion,” he explained.

What to do when you have joint pain?

According to Dr. Brusovanik, the most important thing to do when you have joint pain is to seek out a professional diagnosis.

“A meniscal tear is quite different than arthritic pain when it comes to treatment approaches. So as with any pain, whether it be back, hip, or knee pain, the reason why one is hurting needs to be specific to implement the proper approach,” he explained.

Moreover, when seeking a medical diagnosis, it’s important to provide detailed information about the specifics of your pain, for example when it started, what type of pain it is (sharp, stabbing, dull), and any activities that worsen the pain. You should also share with your doctor your medical history of past injuries, surgeries, and/or chronic conditions, to help your doctor understand the context of your pain.

“Outside of seeking a diagnosis, other overall lifestyle modifications are always recommended for decreasing joint pain such as weight management, adequate rest of the joints, use of joint-supportive devices, and avoidance of repetitive physical activities and poor ergonomics,” Dr. Brusovanik explained.

Exercises that help with joint pain

Exercise helps maintain low weight and joint flexibility, as well as strengthening the muscles surrounding the joints which leads to better joint support and reduced load on them. Dr. Brusovanik told Newsweek that movement during exercise also stimulates the production of synovial fluid which lubricates the joints, enhancing their mobility and reducing friction.

However, it’s important to choose exercises that are gentle on the joints if you are experiencing joint pain but that also promote strength and flexibility.

He said: “Low-impact aerobic exercises such as swimming, cycling, or elliptical training have minimal impact on the joints. Water aerobics is also an excellent choice because it allows for a full range of motion without stressing the joints. Practices like Tai Chai and yoga combine gentle movements with improved balance, flexibility, and strength.

As for exercises to help prevent joint pain, Dr. Brusovanik suggests keeping the pectoralis muscle stretched and the interscapular stabilizer strengthened in order to maintain good posture as a way to prevent joint pain.

“Kyphosis, the forward rounding of the spine in the upper back, is the inevitable fate of musculoskeletal aging,” he said, adding that if your body starts to become “hunched over,” then the pectoralis muscle and weak interscapular stabilizers start to become impacted and weakened.

“If one were to keep the chest out and shoulders back, they would see an immediate improvement in posture along with some wonderful other side effects such as an improved ability to reach overhead, as well as a feeling of easier breathing,” he said.

Dr. Brusovanik explained that such improved posture can be reached, within limits, by stretching the pectoralis muscle and strengthening the muscles between the shoulder blades.

“This can be done by doing shoulder circles and shoulder squeezes, the latter wherein you squeeze your shoulder blades down and back, trying to touch your elbows to your waist. One can also do chest stretches, sitting or standing, with palms facing forwards, lifting your arms out the sides and reaching them backward.”

Abdominal toning and loosening of the hamstrings are also a great way to prevent joint pain not only in the hips but also in the lower back. Moreover, balance and stability exercises, like standing on one leg, heel-to-toe walking, or using stability balls, can also help.

While aging is inevitable, keeping your body healthy is a choice that you will surely thank yourself for having made.