A Beginners Guide to Joint Health

James Rippe
by James Rippe
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A Beginners Guide to Joint Health

We know that we have joints, and we know that they help us move, but many of us don’t pay as much attention to them as we should. A recent survey found that nearly seven in 10 Americans over age 34 experience occasional joint stiffness, and 62% of Gen Xers—now in their late 30s and 40s—are concerned about their joints. So what can be done to build better joint health?

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Let’s start with the basics. A joint is where two or more bones are conjoined together, most commonly with cartilage. And it’s this healthy cartilage that helps us move; it allows bones to glide over one another and prevents bones from rubbing against each other.

Strong, flexible joints are essential for almost every daily activity. Whether you’re tossing a baseball, lifting a glass of water, nodding your head, standing from a chair or playing with your children, you depend on your joints. Simply put, joints are the gateway to leading healthy, active lifestyles. This is why it’s imperative we pay attention to joints and take care of them, starting early in life.

While there are certain joints we’re more commonly aware of, such as the knees, and those found in the back, hands and neck. There are actually 147 joints in the human body—and all of them need attention.

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All too often, many of us take our joints for granted and don’t pay attention to them until it’s too late. Joints have a direct effect on our daily movements and activities, so it’s important that we give them the proper attention and care they deserve.

I often draw the comparison to patients that, just as we promote healthy teeth and head off decay by brushing and flossing regularly, we can get ahead of joint health by properly nourishing, moving and stretching them regularly. Overall, joints are just as important as our heart and lungs—they help us function daily and keep us active as we age.

Not paying attention to our joints means gambling with our health and quality of life as we age. Joint health is that important.

We continuously put stress on our joints every day by carrying extra body weight, slugging around heavy backpacks, practicing poor posture and sitting improperly. One effective means for supporting joint health is to lower overall body weight, especially for those who are overweight or obese. Losing excess weight can ease the strain the additional body mass puts on your joints. In addition, many who maintain active lifestyles and fitness routines can pay more attention to the results of their workouts than they do to the way exercise (particularly high-impact and repetitive movements) impacts their joints.

By taking action throughout our lives—starting as early as our 30s—we can help nourish and strengthen our joints to support them as we age.

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When it comes to joint health, it’s never too early to be proactive. Most of us have the mentality that we can wait until later in life to take action. Not true. As we practice proper fitness techniques and nourish our bodies with healthy foods, it’s also important to incorporate supplements into our diets to meet the needs of our joints.

Eating healthy foods is beneficial to our bodies; however, it’s difficult to get the most important joint-health ingredients, like glucosamine, chondroitin and collagen, into our everyday diets. Joint-health supplements, such as those offered by Osteo Bi-Flex*, help provide proper nourishment to support joint function, strength and mobility.

Make your joint health a priority. Nourish your body properly, and you’ll feel the results for years to come.

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Good joint health is dependent upon regular physical activity. Stay active. Warm up properly before exercise, and cool down and stretch after exercise.

Many patients with joint concerns tend to rest in search of recovery. Movement is a much better—and proven—path. Patients should work low-impact exercises, such as yoga and water aerobics, into their routines. Remember: some exercise is better than none. The more you move, the more your body will reward you.

Stiffness is common, especially in the morning. To combat the occasional joint stiffness, try a “hot-and-cold” regimen. You can establish this routine by taking a long, warm shower or bath when you wake up and then integrating other hot remedies into your day, such as sitting with an electric blanket over your legs or lying on a heating pad at night. The warmth of these techniques helps your joints stay loose and flexible.

On the flip side, cold treatments are also effective, as discomfort can often result from a burning sensation in an inflamed joint. Inflammation can often occur after high-impact activities like running, and after activities like gardening and yoga, which require constant bending. A cold treatment is best applied when joints are “hot.” I often recommend patients use a gel pack or a frozen bag of vegetables, which can shift shape and bend around common joint areas, such as your knees, elbows and hands. Standard ice packs are only able to sit on one area of the joint.

Keep in mind that a hot-and-cold regimen that heat helps muscles relax, while cold minimizes inflammation and discomfort. So use heat for joints that feel stiff and cold for a joint that is already hot or irritated.

Regular massages—full body or even pedicure/manicure massages—can ease joint and muscle tightness. Whether you’re getting a full-body or a pedicure massage, you’re putting your joints through a full range of motion to decrease stiffness. During a full-body massage, warm oils and lotions can relieve stress on joints. The same goes for a manicure or pedicure treatment—soaking your feet and hands in warm water can relieve joint stress and soothe the body.

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Joints age naturally; however, there are key preventive steps we can take to keep joints mobile, nourished and supported.

First: Pay attention to your joint health earlier in life, before it demands your attention. Second: Attend to injuries properly. Many patients take minor injuries for granted and don’t properly attend to them, resulting in long-term issues. One of the most common causes of joint concerns in men results directly from improperly treated or untreated athletic injuries. Whether you twist an ankle running, hyperextend an arm lifting a suitcase or jam your fingers playing softball, make sure you listen to what your body is telling you and take proper actions to address any level of injury.

Consult your doctor, ask questions and take the necessary steps to address and support your joints. Taking care of our joints ensures we can live the lives we desire, even in advanced years.

*The supplement recommendation comes from the author and isn’t meant to be viewed as an endorsement from MyFitnessPal. Readers should consult with their doctor for individual recommendations.

About the Author

James Rippe
James Rippe

James Rippe, MD, is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Medical School. He is currently the founder and director of the Rippe Lifestyle Institute and Professor of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Central Florida. Dr. Rippe is regarded as one of the leading authorities on preventive cardiology, health and fitness, and healthy weight loss in the United States. He has written for over 400 publications on issues in medicine, health and fitness, and weight management. He has also written 49 books, including 31 medical texts and 18 books on health and fitness for the general public.

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