Understanding our joints
A joint is the the place where two or more bones meet and move against each other. In healthy joints, a firm, rubbery material called cartilage acts as a cushion between the bones and provides a smooth, gliding surface for joint motion.
There are lots of different reasons why joints become stiff or painful including ageing, wear and tear, injury and our genetics. However it is not inevitable and there is also a lot we can do to look after our joints and reduce problems.
If your life is ever significantly affected by your joints, and particularly if you are taking regular medication for your joints, it’s probably time to see your GP practice
How to look after your joints
Even if you’re not having any trouble with your joints it’s worth protecting them for the future. Here are a few things to consider.
Maintain a healthy weight
Excess weight puts extra pressure on weight-bearing joints, like hips and knees. The Arthritis Foundation suggests that each pound you gain adds nearly four pounds of stress to your knees and increases pressure on your hips six-fold. Losing even a few pounds can reduce joint stress and inflammation, cutting the risk of future pain in half.
Eat well: Vitamins for strong bones and healthy joints
Healthy joints all need cartilage, which is made from collagen. Collagen itself is built from many ingredients including amino acids, vitamins and minerals. You also need sufficient calcium to strengthen your bones, and vitamin D to help your body absorb calcium.
You should be able to get all the nutrients you need for healthy bones and cartilage from your diet and from sunlight. Our “What’s in a healthy diet” article in the references section may help you, as will our article on vitamin D. While there are good sources of vitamin D in foods like oily fish, eggs and mushrooms, current government advice is that we should all be supplementing with vitamin D, particularly in winter or when we’re stuck inside.
Supplements for joints
There is evidence to suggest some supplements might help to manage joint pain or help prolong joint health: These include:
- Glucosamine Sulphate has been shown to help joint stiffness to some extent, especially when taken over a period of 6 months or longer.
- Chondroitin. Studies suggest that chondroitin sulphate can alleviate pain symptoms and improve function in osteoarthritis, the commonest joint problem.
- Ginger Extract. There is evidence to show that ginger extract can have benefits and side effects similar to that of anti inflammatory painkillers such as ibuprofen.
- Omega 3. Taking 1-3 grams of fish oil per day may decrease joint pain.
Control your blood sugar
Research suggests that having type 2 diabetes, which affects the body's ability to regulate blood sugar (glucose), may be a significant risk factor for the wear and tear of the joints. High glucose levels seem to make cartilage stiffer and more sensitive to mechanical stress. Diabetes can also trigger inflammation that leads to cartilage loss and may explain why more than half of people with diabetes also have osteoarthritis.
Amongst Evergreen users, the odds of having an Osteoarthritis diagnosis are 5x higher amongst those who also have a diagnosis of type-II diabetes, compared with those who do not. This appears to be an effect separate from any weight gain
As we mentioned earlier, a higher weight or BMI is also linked to higher rates of osteoarthritis and those with type 2 diabetes are more likely to have a high BMI. The simplest way to prevent diabetes is to keep up your exercise, keep your weight down and reduce your carbohydrate intake. This is particularly important if you have diabetes in your family, giving you a higher risk of getting the disease.
The following information may not be suitable for people with inflammatory joint disease such as Rheumatoid Arthritis.
Physical activity is one of the best ways to keep joints healthy. Doing low resistance exercise like walking, swimming and pilates at least once a week helps joints stay limber and strengthens the muscles that support and stabilise your hips and knees. Exercise also strengthens the heart and lungs, lowers diabetes risk and is a key factor in weight control.
The greatest results come with a consistent and progressive exercise programme adjusted for your age, fitness level and the activities you enjoy most. If you have pain in your joints, you may not feel like exercising. However, being active can help reduce pain and stiffness as well as improving strength, mobility and energy levels. Seek advice to alleviate pain during exercise rather than doing none at all.
There are articles in the reference section about ideas for exercise in general and specifically about exercise with arthritis. Remember to listen to your body. Take it slowly and if you have pain after a workout that persists more than an hour or two, do less next time and take more breaks.
Play it safe at work and play
Injuries exacerbate joint pain and while they’re not always avoidable, it pays to protect your joints as much as you can.
If you play sports, wear protective gear. After an injury, maintaining a healthy weight can help guard against further joint damage.
Physically demanding jobs make wear and tear more likely and may pose particular challenges and obstacles for people with arthritis or related conditions. The fitter and healthier you are, the better you’ll be able to cope with the physical aspects of your job. But health and safety legislation requires your employer to provide you with the necessary advice, training, clothing and equipment to minimise any physical risk.
If you're finding any physical aspects of your work difficult or if it’s exacerbating your arthritis or related condition, it's important you discuss this with somebody at your workplace. The Equality Act requires that you are treated fairly and that you are offered 'reasonable adjustments' so that you can remain at work whatever your health problem.
Remember, the best defence against any disease, including joint problems, is a healthy lifestyle. Keep moving, keep eating well!