In your life, there are a few inevitabilities. Taxes, death, and experiencing joint pain at some point are among them. The joint pain you suffer could result from an injury and could be a temporary condition. Others are not so lucky, suffering from long-term conditions that result in extended, daily joint pain and inflammation.
Our joints are integral to our daily movement. They support our limbs, our muscles, and our daily activities to the point where we take them for granted until they just aren’t working for us any more.
While overzealous exercise can be the cause of injury to our joints, responsible fitness is an important part of preventing injury and strengthening our defenses against long-term joint ailments. Especially as we grow older and our bodies are more prone to pain and injury, a regular fitness program is important to stave off those things that tend to slow us down.
Types Of Joint Ailments
If it is not caused by an injury, there are several other potential causes of joint pain. Among the most common are arthritis and bursitis. There are two major types of arthritis that affect the joints. The first is rheumatoid arthritis, and it is more likely to affect your extremities. An autoimmune disorder, rheumatoid arthritis can cause painful stiffness and swelling in the joints of the hands, wrists, ankles and feet. The second common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis, , which can cause bone spurs and degeneration, commonly in the knee, hip and spine.
Bursitis is also an inflammation around the joint, but it affects the fluid filled sacs called bursae that act as a mediating padding between the bone at joints and muscles and tendons that pass over them. Persistent pain in your joints caused by these ailments can eventually lead to joint-replacement surgery.
When in pain, we are tempted to baby the areas of our bodies that are hurting. We carefully compensate for affected areas, limiting our movement to reduce the painful effects. While this is a natural reaction to pain in our bodies, too much babying can lead to a weakening of the area surrounding the pain. This, in turn, can lead to feeling the effects in our compensating muscles, and well as extending the length of time we are incapacitated. Medical literature tells us that the best thing we can do for a painful joint ailment is to build strength around the area in order to support recovery.
The Best Way To Do This Is Exercise
Before you consider any exercise option, check with your doctor to make sure that you are aware of the full causes of your pain, as you could be mistaking these ailments for any number of others that could affect your joints. These could include gout, tendonitis, osteomyelitis, injury, fracture or overextertion.
Exercising Your Joints
As with any fitness regimen, you want to incorporate three major components of fitness: flexibility, strengthening, and cardiovascular conditioning. Flexibility is especially important when dealing with a joint problem as it prevents the common symptom of stiffness, as well as staving off deformities that severe bouts of joint affliction can lead to in later stages. Muscles, tendons, and ligaments that are not regularly stretched will degenerate and reduce your range of motion.
In order to promote flexibility, range-of-motion exercises are the most basic form of stretching you should be practicing. This means that you want to push your joints to move in their full range of motion at least every other day. This can take the form of lifting your arms over your head, rolling shoulders, or rotating your wrists and ankles. To stretch your hips, support yourself on a table or chair back and lift your leg out to the side as high as you can. Keeping the leg straight, roll your knee up then down, pivoting the hip in its joint.
The strengthening component of your fitness routine is important to maintain muscle mass surrounding your joints in order to support the joint and make movement less painful. It also strengthens your ligaments and tendons that help extend your movement to full range. As we age, and our joints are starting to go, another thing that wanes is muscle and bone mass.
Having a strengthening component to your workout can go a long way to preventing both from weakening. Weak muscles lead to less control around the joints. Conversely, strong muscles help carry the weight of your body and act as shock absorbers, taking some of the pressure off your joints.
The type of strengthening you should concentrate on really depends on which joints hurt and how much pain you are in. Your best bet is to talk to your doctor. Even more ideal would be getting your doctor to recommend a sport’s doctor who can tailor strengthening exercises to your specific needs and limitations. The last thing you want to do is add injury to affliction.
Finally, cardiovascular exercise is an important component of a well-rounded fitness routine, but is often the first to go when you are suffering from joint pain. It is difficult to build the kind of intensity you need to get your heart up to its target rate without putting stress on your joints.
One of the best things you can do for your body, if you have sore joints, is exercise in the water. Water take the pressure off your joints and afford resistance to your movements, incorporating strength training. Other activities that you can try are walking, golf, or cycling.
Any activity is good—just getting out and doing yard work or walking up stairs instead of taking the elevator promote better health. You should try to incorporate 30 minutes of cardio into every day (even if it means breaking it up into 10 minute segments).
There are a few tips you should keep in mind to exercise safely:
- If you are just getting back into exercise, start easy and increase intensity slowly, over a couple of weeks.
- Always exercise both sides of your body equally
- Avoid jerking movements that jolt the joints
- Put a heating pad on your joints for about 20 minutes before working out to loosen them up
- Ice down joints for about 15 minutes at the end of working out to prevent swelling and pain
- Always warm up.
If you are unsure how to get started, talk to your doctor, a sports medicine doctor or an accredited personal trainer. Exercise will help, not hinder, your well being. If you are experiencing any worsening of pain, weakness, or swelling, consult your doctor to adjust your methods accordingly. Exercise will help you regain some control over the condition of your joints, but only if you listen to what they are telling you.