We have 206 bones in the adult human skeleton; the point where 2 bones connect is called a joint, we have a total of 360 joints in the body – some of these connect the tiny bones in our inner ear – others are more obvious, such as our knee or elbow joints. Our skeleton provides us with structure, but without our joints it would be a rigid, very difficult to move structure. While different joints have slightly different functions, most of them are there to provide us with movement – from fine motor movement in the hands, to turning the head, bending our knees to walk, pivoting at the hips, moving our spine and nearly every range of motion you can think of (including some in the inner ear you probably haven’t thought of at all!).
There are many different types of joints, but the ones that have the most movement tend to be synovial joints; these joints have a cartilage covering on the end of each connected bone and in between there is a cavity that is filled with synovial fluid; these structures allow the bones to move in a smooth, lubricated manner. The hips, knees, neck, wrists, elbows and shoulders all contain synovial joints. If the function of our joints diminishes then we can start to have all sorts of problems with movement, this typically occurs in the joints that have a lot of repetitive movement. Age, injury or sometimes an over-response by the immune system can trigger joint degeneration and can lead to a condition called arthritis. As the joints degenerate there is a breakdown of the cartilage at the ends of the bones and other structures in the joint capsule, chronic inflammation occurs which causes swelling, redness, heat and pain; in advanced cases bony spurs can form and cause intense pain. As you can imagine, this degeneration and pain can severely impact the ability to move comfortably.
There are many different nutrients that can help to manage the symptoms of arthritis and even possibly slow its progression, but typically once the damage is done it is extremely difficult to repair. When it comes to our joint health, as with most things, prevention is a much better than trying to find a cure.
What can you do to look after your joints and keep them healthy?
• Maintain a healthy weight – excess weight increases the load our joints have to bear, over time this can cause strain on the ligaments and tendons around the joints, and even lead to degeneration of the joint structures.
• Exercise regularly – many people with stiff or sore joints avoid exercise as it is uncomfortable (or worse), but as the old saying goes ‘motion is lotion’. Exercises that place a low impact on the joints are ideal and include walking, swimming, cycling and properly aligned weight training. Yoga can be beneficial for the joints and supporting structures such as ligaments and tendons. Avoid high impact, jarring and jolting type exercises, or at least reduce things such as running, contact sports – also, any high speed exercise that involves a sudden move in direction can be very hard on the joints such as tennis, basketball, netball and soccer. Essentially, include a variety of exercises, ensure correct technique and always warm up and cool down.
• Build muscle – having poor muscle strength means that the workload of the joints increases and makes that area more prone to injury. Lifting weights (with correct technique) and using resistance exercises twice a week can help to build healthy strong muscles.
• Good posture – our body is cleverly designed so that when we are properly aligned (have good posture) our weight and force against our joints is evenly distributed, giving us maximum strength with minimal resistance and risk of injury.
• Watch your diet – what we eat can play a big role in our health. Be sure to eat a diet focussed on lots of fresh, unprocessed foods, load up on vegetables and include some fresh fruit and good fats every day. Specifically look to include anti-inflammatory fatty acids from oily fish, olive oil, flax seeds, raw nuts and seeds and ginger; cherries and berries are particularly good for joint health; sulphur rich foods are important too – broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, onions, leeks and garlic. Be sure to reduce foods that contribute to inflammation – too much meat, sugar, caffeine, alcohol, fried foods, processed foods and for some people vegetables from the nightshade family (tomatoes, potatoes, capsicums and eggplants).
• Special nutrients – nutrients that have the ability to reduce inflammation and oxidative damage are particularly helpful – these include turmeric, omega 3 fatty acids, astaxanthin, resveratrol, grape seed extract and green tea extract. These nutrients can be found in Lester’s Oil and Res-V Ultimate.
Taking care of our joints is one of the best things we can do to ensure we remain active and healthy as we age, helping us to maintain the quality of life we desire. So make sure you follow some of this advice and show your joints some TLC today and every day.