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Preventing joint injury

Angela Honstad, MD

Our joints are complex structures that allow us to do all types of movements, from knitting, walking, playing piano, and throwing a football to running a marathon. Injuries, strain from repetitive motion, obesity, some health conditions and the effects of aging can interfere with our joints, leading to pain and disability.

You can take steps to prevent and maintain your bone and joint health throughout your life.

Keep moving. When it comes to joint health, it is true that if you don’t use it, you lose it. Think of your joints as the moving parts of a machine. A little bit of lubricant, or oil, keeps these parts in working order. If a machine sits idle for any length of time, the lubricant dries out or thickens and the part no longer functions effectively. Your body’s joints also need lubricant to move. This natural lubricant is created by your body, and the more you move, the more lubricant is made by a healthy joint to keep things working.

That’s why it’s important to exercise; aim for three times a week. Try low-impact activities, such as walking, bicycling and swimming to help keep you in shape, exercise your muscles and minimize stress on your joints. Add in strength training exercises as strong muscles protect your joints. Be sure to add stretches before and after your workout to keep your joints flexible and improve range of motion.

Maintain a healthy weight. Extra weight puts stress on your joints, especially the joints in your lower body. It is estimated that every pound of excess weight exerts about four extra pounds of pressure on your joints. For someone who is 20 pounds overweight, that equals 80 pounds of extra pressure on your joints. Sometimes the best solution to easing painful joints is weight loss.

To keep your joints healthy, keep moving. Daily exercise, like walking, will keep joints supple and lubricated.

Eat right. Along with weight loss goes proper nutrition. Vitamins C, D and K, and the mineral calcium, are important to bone and joint health. Some recommended foods are kale, broccoli, spinach, squash, red peppers, olive oil, berries, grapes, citrus fruit, low-fat yogurt and milk, and fatty fish such as salmon or sardines.

Stay hydrated. Cartilage, which is the smooth lining that allows your joints to glide, is 80 percent water. By drinking the recommended 64 ounces of fluid each day, you’ll help keep your joints lubricated.

Get plenty of rest. While it is important to move your joints you also need to rest. Many injuries, such as carpal tunnel or trigger thumb, can be caused by long-term repetitive movement. Resting your joints helps reduce strain from overuse. In addition, adequate sleep helps your body to repair and regenerate, so try to get 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night.

Quit smoking. If you use tobacco products here is another good reason to quit; tobacco smoking can increase your risk of osteoporosis and fractures.

RICE. If you do experience pain or have an injury, try RICE. This stands for rest, ice, compression and elevation. Most minor joint pain will respond to this treatment, but if it does not improve or worsens, seek an appointment with an orthopedic provider.

Joint specialists

Orthopedic doctors treat injuries and conditions of the musculoskeletal system. Treatment options include rest, splinting, medication and physical therapy. For some conditions, a simple, less invasive surgical procedure may be needed. For example, treatment for carpal tunnel release can now be done under local anesthesia, with the patient going home within hours.

If you do require surgery, your orthopedic surgeon will work with you to better understand your goals for recovery. Maybe your goal is to decrease pain with movement, or maybe you wish to be able to return to doing a certain activity you enjoy, such as bicycling or playing violin. Together you and your orthopedic surgeon will determine the best treatment option for you.

To learn more about Dr. Honstad, visit allinahealth.org/providers/18681 or make an appointment by calling 507-217-5011.