Each movement of your body depends on a fully functional joint. Joints link the bones in your body and you can just imagine how many you have. You’re able to walk, to dance and to move in any way you want ¾ except when there’s a problem. In that moment, you realize exactly how important your joints are and how they contribute to your entire health.
What are joints?
Joints are an important part of the human body. They connect different segments and they allow movement between those segments. Joint structure is determined by different factors that include genetic expression, cellular interaction, and functional demands. The actual design of joints is determined by their function in the human body. All joints are formed by bones, cartilage, muscles, ligaments and tendons. They adapt to human needs and demands, which are usually mechanical in nature. Their appearance and composition might change due to factors like inactivity, training or immobilization.
Movement is made possible by muscles that generate force in order to move the bones, but joints allow bones to articulate and to do the actual work of lifting, lowering and other types of actions. Joints sustain the effort of muscles to make precise and coordinated movements. Each joint has its own range of motion, strength and stability, depending on its position in the human body and its function.
Some joints have the purpose of providing stability, while others provide mobility. Their design is different and their complexity is related to the varied demands they serve. They need to provide bones for the maximum movement and the necessary stability, but with a minimum amount of friction.
Joints also contain living tissue that can change in response to environmental or functional requirements. The tissue needs nourishment so it can survive, but it’s also subject to aging, injuries, and disease. If there are too great demands or the adaptations process fails in any way, tissues get injured and problems arise. There are also the nervous, circulatory and muscular systems fully involved in the optimal functioning of joints.
All the bones that form a certain joint fit into something called joint capsule, which is filled with lubricating synovial fluid. The bones can move against each other without grinding because their ends, inside the capsule mentioned earlier, are covered with smooth articular cartilage. There is an additional measure of musculoskeletal cushioning, for better protection, outside the joint, called bursa. Bursas are sacs filled with synovial fluid that counter friction.
The outer layer of joints is made from fibrocartilage. Joints found in the shoulder, hip and knee have a special kind of fibrocartilage shock absorbers inside the capsule. In the spine, the disks have fibrocartilage that’s filled with mucoprotein gel which acts as a shock absorber between the vertebrae.
Controlled movement is made by the ligaments, found inside and sometimes outside the capsule. They connect two bones and hold them in place. Numerous ligaments are found in the knee and they often get torn. The entire system works thanks to collagen, which is the building block of all the connective tissue in the human body. It’s a tough and rubbery material needed by cartilage, ligaments, tendons and muscular fascia.
High complexity and variety in the human body
Just consider the human body for one moment. The skeleton contains about 200 bones which are all connected by joints. The bones vary in size and their shape varies from round to flat. Even the ends of bones can be either convex or concave. The joints’ design varies from simple, usually with stability as a primary function, to complex joints that allow mobility. However, most joints serve both functions, and they also provide dynamic stability. Stability, shock absorption, and motion are all given by different parts of joints. Muscles are also very efficient shock absorbers and they can take up at least half of the force you generate in your daily activities, whether it’s a sport or sitting at your desk.
The overall engineering of joints is truly impressive. They have to stabilize bones inside the joint capsule as they move and they need to support the body weight. Joints can handle such forces because they are composed mostly of collagen, which allows the connective tissues to compress and expand. They provide the right balance of flexibility and firmness.
Injuries and trauma
Joint trauma can be very serious, regardless of your age. However, aging has negative effects on the connective tissue. Your cartilage, which is composed of 65-80% water, losses the water and become less supple, thus making you more prone to injuries. There is an increased accumulation of stresses and strains and the impact on your body is more severe. Two of the most common such injuries are disks in the lower back and the meniscus cartilage in the knees. Being shock-absorbing structures, they deteriorate faster because the fibrocartilage dries out in time.
Another thing you need to know is that joint tissues heal very poorly. In some cases, only surgery can fix the problem, but usually, it takes a lot of time for ligaments or injuries like meniscus tears to heal. Old age slows down the process, while young patients have the benefit of robust blood circulation. On the other hand, the articular cartilage that stands at the end of the bones doesn’t have any kind of blood supply. The only nourishment it receives is from the synovial fluid. Damaged cartilage has minimal ability to heal itself, but most of the times it’s impossible. The situation is even worse for larger joints like the hip, the knee or the shoulder, where damage can become self-perpetuating. The reason for this is the thinned cartilage that causes the bones inside the capsule to move abnormally. This worsens the damage and it activates the body’s inflammatory response. When the cartilage disappears, the bones rub against each other and this produces pain, injury to the bones and movement restriction. The end result is osteoarthritis.
Because complex joints have more parts and they are subject to more wear and tear, they are more likely to be affected by injury, compared with simple joints. Their functionality is dependent upon factors such as:
- the amount of synovial fluid in the capsule – which has to be enough for lubrication and nourishment of the joint, but it also needs to have the right composition
- the hyaline cartilage needs to be smooth enough to allow the joint surfaces to move easily, while staying permeable enough to receive nourishment
- the balance between stability and flexibility – capsules and ligaments need to be strong to offer support and stability, but they also need to provide the optimal conditions for normal joint motion through flexibility
- the tendons have to be capable of resisting the forces generated by the muscles during movement
Diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, for example, change the composition and the production of the synovial fluid. This affects lubrication of the joint and it causes pain. This is just one of the things that happen when someone has rheumatoid arthritis. Other problems like arthritis or osteoarthritis may be genetic or have a mechanical origin. They affect the cartilage by erosion and it causes the cartilage to split. This increases friction between the surfaces of the joints and it increases the erosion process even more.
In the case of injury to any part of the joint, the support is decreased and the entire area of your body is affected. An unstable joint leads to damage and function disruption because it lacks stability. If your injured joint has to support the weight, the joint surfaces separate and it stays at an angle. A back and forth movement appear, but this motion causes other problems to the rest of the structure. Any changes in the alignment create abnormal joint openings where ligaments were torn. Increased loading of the tendons, ligaments, and joint capsule stretches them excessively and protection is no longer assured. Injuries that lead to joint instability, and especially ligament traumas, can cause osteoarthritis.
You might be under the impression that complete rest is useful for joint injuries. However, immobilization is detrimental to joint structure and functionality. You need to be aware that any process that disturbs the natural order of your joints starts a chain of events that is capable of affecting each part of the joint and its surrounding structures. Immobilization might be forced by a cast, weightlessness or even by pain and inflammation as a self-imposed reaction. Those who had suffered from joint inflammation and swelling usually assume a certain position that accommodates the high volume of fluid in the joint space. It might bring some comfort because it decreases the pain. Each joint has its own position of maximum volume and minimum pressure, but a few weeks in this position of comfort cause the joint capsule to shorten as an adaptation response. Contractures in the soft tissues are developed and they lead to deformity and rigidity of joints. The range of joint motion will be difficult to recover afterward. The muscles that surround the joint area are weakened and you are at high risk of additional injuries.
Sustained and repetitive use of particular structures can have adverse effects from the ones you might expect. Damage caused by overuse occurs in two ways: a sudden application of large loads or repeated and sustained applications of low loads. The first type of damage is caused by large loads that are created by great stresses and strains, which create a rupture of the tissue. The scale can be either microscopic or macroscopic. The second might be subtle and it occurs during repeated and sustained actions. A tissue that is already deformed might undergo micro failures when it has to sustain new loads and that can be the reason for some cases of chronic back pain or tendon injuries. If ligaments are subjected to sustained loads, their length can change permanently. Cartilage will be deformed after constant use, becoming thinner. Repetitive actions lead to injuries because they don’t allow joints and the supporting structures to recover. This is called an overuse injury or repetitive strain injury. Many athletes, musicians, dancers or factory workers have been identified with this kind of joint damage. The real causes behind it aren’t yet fully known, but the simple fatigue of the tissues is not a sufficient explanation for this kind of injuries.
The health, function, and strength of joints are determined by the amount of stress and strains, and it can fluctuate, depending on the state of the tissues. Nutrition and growth of cartilage and bones depend on joint movement and muscle contraction. Strains affect how the ligaments and tendons are maintained and how they increase their strength. The activity of muscles and weight lifting have an impact on bone density and strength. Even if immobilization might be necessary, it can actually slow down the healing process of the joints and tissues. It’s a movable fine line between the possibility of atrophy and the point where injuries can occur, but progressive use is recommended because it involves gradual modifications of this threshold. It’s done in such a way that your body can withstand the forces that accompany functional activities.
Given the fact that joints have such poor repair mechanisms and they recover so slowly, prevention is crucial for their health. Your own choices can determine the state of your joints, leaving aside the genetics factor and injuries. A sedentary lifestyle is not recommended and you should always opt for low-impact movement.
Who needs healthy and powerful joints?
- People who want to decrease chances of injuries. If you have trouble with flexibility and you can’t lift your legs as high as you’d like, you should try to improve the state of your joints.
- Athletes who want to perform better need extra flexibility.
- Older people who suffer from lack of mobility. It can be caused by calcium deposits or inactivity, but exercising can reverse the degenerative process.
- Those who want to improve their posture.
- Dancers, martial art practitioners, rock climbers will all benefit from having strong joints.
- Anyone who wants to stay pain-free for a long time.
Joint Health and Pain Relief Guidelines
Any damage or trauma to your joints that is caused by disease of injuries affects your life and work. It doesn’t allow you to move and the pain will have negative impacts in many areas of your life. Aside from the mentioned conditions like osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or strains, there are other problems that might cause you pain in your joints. Some people suffer from bursitis, gout or sprains.
Joint pain is so common that about one-third of adults have reported having joint pain. The most common areas of the human body are the knees, shoulders and hips, but any part of your body can be affected by pain. As you already saw, your entire body has many joints and they can all be affected by all kinds of factors. As you age, joint pains are even more common and you should be able to do something about it.
There are three stages of joint health. The first type of health joint is usually found in young people with 100% functionality. They are able to move their legs in a variety of ways, they can flex their spine and they have a great range of motion. The second stage is reached the age of 40 when joints have salt deposits and people have limited possibilities of movement. Aches are common, but they are not permanent. These symptoms can disappear for a while and might reappear again in the future. The third stage comes with a lot of pain that persists. It interferes with your daily activities. Some of the things you can blame for this state are a lack of movement, bad posture, and poor body mechanics.
There are three main things that your joints require to stay healthy. First, you need water that acts as a lubricant and provides nourishment. Water is also needed in the cartilage, so stay hydrated. Then, joints need proteoglycans for drawing water into the joint and to maintain it there and collagen for keeping the proteoglycans in the right place.
The joint pain can range from mild to extreme. It can be either chronic or acute, depending on how long it lasts. Whatever is the cause of joint pain, there is medication available, physical therapy and alternative solutions. Aside from pills that help you get relief from pain, there are injectable medication options that your doctor can administer. You should always check with your doctor to see what causes your pain and to try to diagnose it. He is the most suitable person to offer you the right treatment. The goals when dealing with this condition is to reduce pain and inflammation, while the joint functions are fully preserved.
If you feel pain in your joints, you can try a simple technique at home to feel better. It’s called the PRICE method and it involves 5 easy steps:
- Protection of your joint with a brace or wrap – is the first thing you should do.
- Rest your joint and avoid any activities that cause you pain.
- Ice application on your joint is recommended for about 15 minutes, several times each day.
- Compress your joint with an elastic wrap.
- Elevate the painful joint above the level of your heart.
Pain and inflammation can be relieved by ice, but in the case of muscle spasms around your joints, you should try using a method that involves heat. Several times a day, wrap your painful area or use a heating pad. Also, remember to avoid complete stillness for prolonged periods of time.
Age-related joint problems can be prevented. The most common practice is exercising. The best thing you can do is to ease into joint mobility training. You should start slowly and gradually add in intensity. You can start your training with slow circles of your joints, from small amplitude to working your way up to the maximum range.
In the morning, you can work on your mobility. In this way, you will also get rid of stiffness and your entire body will feel better. Long periods of inactivity determine your nervous system to tighten your muscles, but you can easily solve this problem if your do some easy exercises for mobility.
Physical therapy can strengthen the muscles around your joints and it can stabilize them. Your range of motion can be improved with the help of a physical therapist. He can use techniques like ultrasound, cold or heat therapy or electrical nerve stimulation.
Overweight is a common cause of joint pain. Losing the extra weight can relieve the pressure that your body puts on your joints. Even losing 10 pounds can make a significant difference in arthritis joint pain. Exercise will help you with this and you should also consider a change in your diet. It’s important to remember that low-impact exercises are the best in your condition and they won’t irritate your joints even further to cause additional damage. You can try swimming or bicycling because they are the most effective physical activities that can relieve joint pain.
Joint Relief Solutions
If you want to get rid of joint pain, you have to at least cover the basics.
Get moderate exercises.
Your joints are surrounded by muscles and their weakness can cause your joints to suffer. If you strengthen your muscles they will provide better support. Leg lifts or push-ups will help you and work out with small weights will develop your muscles and will eliminate the pain. You can also walk daily for 30 minutes.
Exercises also prevent bone loss, which leads to low bone density. Your condition will be improved even with low-intensity exercises, but you need to stay consistent and to exercise frequently.
An exercise routine will help you lose the extra weight that puts pressure on your joints. It may also trigger internal changes in your body, like inflammation. Stay active with simple movements like walking, bending and climbing the stairs. This will not only strengthen your muscles, but it will also increase the blood flow to your joints. The blood will provide nutrients and it will remove the waste material at the same time.
Exercises also have positive effects on your mind, because it releases endorphins and it helps you fight depression. Pain can cause such states and even though you might not be in the mood to exercise, “fake it ’till you make it”. Just get moving and the extraordinary effects will be noticeable. Start slowly and increase the distance of your walks little by little.
If you stay at your desk long hours, remember to get up and take a short walk. Just go and drink some water. You will avoid stiffness and you’ll feel better to disconnect for a few minutes.
Even though stretching is a great method of exercising, don’t stretch cold muscles. A light warm-up before stretching will help loosen up the joints, ligaments and tendons.
Keep your diet nutritious.
Make sure you eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, because they contain antioxidants. These are the key nutrients for having healthy joints. Add color to your diet. A wide range of color on your plate means that you get maximum nutrients from your food.
Fish will reduce inflammation. Salmon and mackerel are good examples of Omega-3 fatty acids sources and they will keep your joints healthy.
The best sources of calcium for strong bones are dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese, as well as broccoli, kale, figs or almond milk.
Include protein in your meals. Your sources can be lean meats, beans, sea food, nuts or legumes.
Enhance your meals with supplements and multivitamins.
The usual medication prescribed for joint pain is ibuprofen. It fights inflammation that is responsible for your pain. However, ginger and spice turmeric are also great examples of anti-inflammatory agents that you can use to combat pain. For healthy cartilage there are supplements that contain glucosamine sulfate. It repairs the damaged cartilage and it rebuilds it. Another example is chondroitin sulfate that was shown to increase joint mobility and relieve pain.
Vitamin D is very helpful in treating joint pains and it helps your body absorb calcium. The calcium keeps your bones strong and injuries can be avoided easier. Try to add these elements to your diet as supplements if not otherwise.
Omega-3 is very important for having healthy joints. These fats also fight inflammation.
Supplements of UC-II, or collagen, will stop the cartilage deterioration.
Other things to consider for healthy joints:
- Be careful with lifting and carrying bags. Your joints might suffer if you aren’t considerate. Allow the bigger muscles to deal with bigger weight and protect your joints. A backpack should be carried on both shoulders
- Perfect your posture by standing and sitting up straight. Good posture protects your joints from the neck to the knee, hips and back.
- Always protect your body when you take part in high-risk activities. Wear a helmet, knee pads, elbow and wrist pads, so you don’t risk injuries.
- If your body doesn’t sleep, you don’t offer him the chance to rebuild the tissues and to repair itself. Insomnia can be a cause of increased pain and you can solve it by resting for 7 to 8 hours during each night. A warm bath 2 hours before going to bed can relieve muscle tension and it might be exactly what you need for a good night’s sleep.
- Get a massage once in a while. It can relieve tension in your muscles and it reduces fatigue. There are some forms of massage that focus on muscles and joints and have the purpose of improving their function.
You can have healthy joints if you make sure your lifestyle matches your body’s needs. Joint pain is very common, but as you can see, there are many ways to fight it. You can have a beautiful life as long as you treat your body with respect and make sure you solve each problem before it gets worse. Stay away from injuries as much as possible and respect some simple rules for improving your condition. Your joints will thank you and your ability to move will be extended for a long time.