Our basic premise is: Your body is amazing. You get a do-over; it doesn’t take that long and isn’t that hard if you know what to do.
In these columns, we give you a short course in what to do so it becomes easy for you. Then you can teach others. We want you to know how much control you have over your quality and length of life.
Today we want to talk about your joints and their health.
Together, bones, joints and muscles make up the human machine of movement; they help you walk your dog, play golf and outrun the paparazzi. Even if your bones feel more like steel girders than toothpicks, your musculoskeletal system does some surprising things as it develops. Maybe you’re not terribly worried about your bones, joints and muscles right now, but they’re hugely important to the way we age, if for no other reason than this: Having Lance Armstrong’s heart or Albert Einstein’s brain doesn’t mean a darn thing if you can’t lift yourself off the toilet.
Take one look at the way a toddler can put her feet behind her head, and you’ll see the full capability of our joints in action. Our joints move in an infinite number of ways, allowing us to reach the top shelf, make a quick cutaway from a linebacker and do “The Electric Slide” at our cousin’s wedding.
As one of the more amazing parts of our bodies, all joints have the same overriding physiology, but they’re also uniquely customized for their special functions. The simple physiology of almost all of our joints is this: They link one bone to another to allow us to move at the point of connection— the way a hinge connects a door to a wall. Made up of ligaments and cartilage, joints are well-lubed to keep your bones moving smoothly. Three joints—the knee, hip and shoulder—are typically considered your body’s most important joints, and they’re all constructed differently to customize the relationship between mobility and stability. While the shoulder joint is the most mobile (look how many ways you can turn and swing your arms), the hip joint is the most stable (for good reason: to carry you everywhere).
Here, we’ ll answer a few questions SUCCESS magazine readers have asked about joints and joint health.
Q: My mother, 78, has osteoarthritis. What is it, and will I get it?
A: While there is some genetic propensity, it is how you treat your joints that is most important. As you age, the density of those slippery shock-absorbing surfaces thins, and you gradually lose your cushioning. When that happens, the effect is similar to walking in shoes without socks. While socks provide cushioning, they also provide a buffer to absorb the friction that would occur if the shoe rubbed up against your skin. Without socks, your exposed skin rubs against the shoe, gets irritated, blisters and becomes infl amed. It’s the same concept with your joints. As you lose your internal sock, your bones lose their ability to slide, and they can rub directly against each other. When that happens, the friction effect is like stick on stick—and it hurts.
In simple form, that’s what osteoarthritis is. It’s a condition in which the cartilage that covers the bones and forms the surface of the joints becomes thinner, rougher and less protective. So the bones grind against each other, and the joint becomes inflamed. It’s painful and makes walking, or any kind of movement, difficult.
Currently, osteoarthritis affects more than 20 million Americans, and that number is expected to grow to 40 million by 2020, making it one of the most common health problems in the country. Eighty-five percent of us who reach 85 will have knee osteoarthritis if we do not do something to prevent it. (Read on for prevention tips.)
Q: I’ve been told that popping my knuckles will cause arthritis. Is that true?
A: Cracking your knuckles makes you sound like a bowl of Rice Krispies and never goes over well in church. While it’s painful for us to hear, you’re not doing any harm to your joints, bones or muscles when you crack, unless you feel pain when you crack them. It’s just caused by the high pressure suction of gas being expelled when your joints move apart. If it hurts when your knuckles or knees crack, you need to see your doctor to assess what kind of joint damage you may have.
Q: Is there anything I can do to prevent arthritis?
A: You strengthen your bones when you do exercises that stress the muscles surrounding or connecting the joints. Alternating strength training and low impact aerobic exercises, such as walking, swimming and bicycling, can be beneficial.
Proper nutrition is also essential for joint health. Both men and women should make sure they get their daily dose of vitamin D3 (1200 IU) plus vitamin C (500 mg), calcium (600 mg) magnesium (200 mg) and DHA, the omega-3 fat (900 mg).
And one more thing for your joints: Stop smoking, even secondhand smoking. You wouldn’t blast your living room with smoke 20 times a day, so why do it to your body? We’ve talked a lot in prior columns about the damage smoking can do to your lungs, and it’s even tougher on your arteries. It’s safe to say that smoking is just as destructive to your bones and joints.
Q: What is the best way to treat pain in my joints after an injury?
A: Ice a joint injury for 48 hours to reduce the swelling. While swelling indicates an increase in fluid or blood deposits in the area, it slows down recovery from the injury. The presence of this additional fluid makes joints stiffer and more painful, which makes them weaker. Ice reduces the swelling and the pain. After that 48-hour period, you can use ice to generate heat (when you take the ice away, it heats up), or use heat alone to warm up the affected joint. Heat loosens up the joint or muscle, giving you more flexibility and allowing you to move more freely during rehabilitation.