Whether you're an athlete or a couch potato, your joints are essential for any movement. They can be anywhere that two bones meet and increase your range of motion, making the skeleton flexible. Over time, the loss of muscle and bone mass that accompanies aging can lead to joint problems. Luckily, there are some steps you can take to strengthen your joints and help you stay active and pain-free!
Without joints, any movement would be impossible. They are part of the body where two or more bones meet, and almost every bone in the body (except for the hyoid bone) meets another bone at a joint. The three broad classes describe how much movement each type allows. Knowing about the three different types can help you understand how to best focus on strengthening certain areas.
Immovable or Fibrous: These joints do not move. The skull is an example of this type of joint because the bony plates fuse during childhood and connect by fibrous tissue. Many people may not classify the head as a part of the body that contains joints, but your skull and part of your jawbone that holds teeth in place, fall under the category of immovable or fibrous.
Partially Movable or Cartilaginous: Bones linked with cartilage are classified as partially movable because they can move a little bit. The spine, for example, is composed of vertebrae that move together. As a unified structure, the spine has some flexibility due to the partially movable joints that connect each vertebra.
Freely Movable or Synovial: The body's main joints are freely movable and filled with lubricating synovial fluid. Found at the hips, shoulders, knees, elbows, wrists, and ankles, these move with an increased range of motion compared to the other types of joints. Freely movable joints can be broken down into three categories. Certain areas of the body, like the elbows, contain multiple subcategories of freely movable joints.
Pivot: Found in areas like the neck, wrists, and elbows, pivot joints allow a rotating or twisting motion.
Hinge: Located throughout the body in the elbows, knees, hands, and feet, hinge joints allow movement in one direction.
Ball and Socket: The most freedom of movement occurs in places where a long bone fits into the hollow of another bone. These are called ball and socket joints and are located in the shoulders and hips.
How To Strengthen Joints:
In the same way, it is important to strengthen your teeth by brushing them, it is crucial to strengthening joints that keep you moving each day. Over time, it is natural for some joint degeneration to occur; however, there are ways to prolong your flexibility and maximize pain-free movement in the future.
Exercise Regularly: If you are already experiencing joint pain, it may be tempting to forego the exercise and opt for a more sedentary approach. However, activity is one of the number one ways to reduce joint pain and strengthen the supportive tissues surrounding your joints. You can improve bone density and keep muscles strong by participating in any type of exercise. Whether you prefer weight lifting, running, cycling, or swimming, almost every workout is beneficial. Choose something that you enjoy and practice it regularly for optimal effects. If any of your exercises increase joint pain, it is important to stop and find an alternative.
Strengthen Leg Muscles: Some of the most common areas of joint pain include the hips and the knees. Building muscles in your legs will help to protect and strengthen these joints. Resistance exercises for your hips and legs that use your body weight should be done 2-3 times per week to strengthen, but not overwork joints. Make sure to incorporate at least one rest day between workouts so your body can repair and recover. Squats and lunges are great at-home exercises that strengthen muscles effectively and don't require equipment. You can also utilize tools like resistance bands, free weights, and other gym equipment.
Do Some Cardio: Any type of cardio workout increases your body's synovial fluid production, which lubricates your joints. Finding a type of cardio, like swimming or biking, that is low-impact not only provides lubrication but also strengthens muscles, improves circulation, and can help with weight management. The more weight you carry, the more stress is placed on your hips, knees, and ankles. Spending 30-60 minutes doing low-impact cardio 3-5 times per week is a guaranteed way to strengthen joints and reward your body with several other health benefits!
Lose Excess Weight: Cardio can help with weight management, but it is important to adopt a well-rounded lifestyle that promotes a healthy weight. Research shows that weight loss takes extra pressure off the joints and contributes to long-term joint health. A combination of a good diet and regular exercise should benefit most people looking to lose weight.
Stretch: As we age, we naturally lose some of our body's flexibility and elasticity. Stiff joints can lead to more injury, so stretching your muscles before exercise and whenever your body feels tense is important. Injuries are one of the leading causes of premature joint degeneration, so taking the necessary steps to reduce your risk of injury is crucial. Warming up and stretching increases your range of motion and prepares your body for extra movement. In addition to stretching, you can wear protective equipment like wrist, knee, or ankle braces that shield you from impact and lighten the load on your joints.
Remember that the exercises you do, or lack thereof, directly affect your joint health and determine your body's future trajectory. Taking steps to strengthen joints now will work in your favor to set yourself up for a future free of pain and full of movement!