You don’t realize how much you rely on your joints for movement, until your joints get injured. From the smaller joints such as in your fingers and ankles, to the major ones like your elbows and knees, your joints give you mobility and is integral when you work out or play sports.
Not taking good care of your joints may inadvertently lead to stiffness, strain and sprains, dislocations and even arthritis. Especially in the joints you use most when working out, namely your knees, ankles, shoulders, elbows, and wrists, any injury will leave you crippled and in pain. However, proper care will help your joints stay in good shape.
1. Balance Low and High-Impact Cardio
Both high and low impact cardio is a necessity for those who workout. High impact activates the fast twitch muscle fibres, yet in excess, may cause undue stress and damage to your joints. Thus, this must be balanced out with low impact activities to strengthen the muscles that will protect the joints. This can be done through rowing and elliptical machines, stationary bikes, treadmill and swimming.
2. Increase Flexibility
Stretching will help preserve the range of motions that your joints can reach. Stiffness is a result of a joint not being stretched enough, and may cause the muscles to weaken and is liable to swell more.
3. Get Nutrition in Check
Nutrition plays a very important part in preserving your joint health, and in building strong muscles to protect your joints.
Minimizing inflammatory responses and excess body fat are two ways to ensure healthy muscles and joints.
“Diets that are more alkaline have been shown to improve your energy and help lower inflammation,” says Camp. “Foods such as berries, avocados, ginger, apples, dates, kale, spinach, and papaya are important to include in your diet.”
Noy adds that a diet low in saturated fat and processed foods can be beneficial. Also opt for fish, vegetables, fruits (cherries, apples, pineapple), whole grains, nuts, and legumes.
Recommended for treatment of osteoarthritis, the joint supplements chondroitin sulfate, glucosamine, and hyaluronic acid have been shown in medical studies to be beneficial for joint health, says Noy. Some joint supplements have a combination of these ingredients for maximum joint health and overall energy.
Wear the Right Shoes
Regardless of the activity, shoes should provide cushioning, stability, and comfort while being flexible. Camp says the arches of your feet can be high, normal, or non-existent and knowing this information is crucial for selecting a training shoe. Also, knowing your foot strike pattern, whether it’s overpronation, underpronation or neutral, is necessary for finding the right shoe.
For running, the main factor is the compression ability, which is typically reduced at 300-500 miles. At this point, or about every six months, it’s time to replace your running shoes because worn shoes cause abnormal stresses on weight-bearing joints.
Consult a podiatrist to analyze your gait pattern and get the perfect fit for whatever the task at hand.
Maintain Proper Posture
If you have to sit, practice good posture.
“Poor sitting posture can lead to tightened, compromised muscles, and eventually back pain,” says Camp. “The vertebral discs have poor nutritional blood supply when your body is static. Getting up and moving around every hour to stretch and move is necessary to combat these affects and reduce any spinal pain.”
For the right sitting posture, Camp suggests lower back support. “Setting up your desk so your workstation is close to you, an maintaining angles of 90 degrees for your elbows, hips, and knees have been found to be best,” he says. “Having a chair with low back support is ideal, and if you do not have one, roll up a pillow or bath towel and place it behind your low back.”
Listen to Your Body
Avoid being overzealous and know when it’s time to stop a certain movement–it can mean the difference between major performance improvement and a dislocated joint or another injury.
“If you have pain during an exercise or sport, stop and rest,” says Noy. “If it persists, consult a doctor to check out why so you are not causing preventable permanent damage. Sometimes ‘no pain, no gain’ can lead to problems if not addressed early enough.”
Controlling stress is imperative to decreasing levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can drive down the production of collagen, a compound necessary for healthy joints.
Camp suggests that practising diaphragmatic breathing for 5 to 10 minutes, which can lower your stress hormone levels. Or try yoga, a low-impact exercise for overall health and flexibility.
Already Injured? Brace Yourself
If you’ve already injured a joint, ligament, tendon or muscle, a protective brace can help reduce inflammation in that area.
“While there is controversy around whether braces can prevent injuries, such as ACL tears, they may provide benefits when you are working through an injury or have damage already,” says Noy. “Compressive sleeves can provide warmth, combat swelling, and provide biofeedback, and some braces can help unload an injured part of a joint.”