Looking after your joints
Every day, we carry out hundreds of physical actions that involve using our joints. Whether it’s a trip to the supermarket to do the shopping, or a strenuous session in the gym, the body’s many joints are working hard for us – allowing us to make all the movements we make in our day-to-day lives. Not everyone’s joints are trouble-free though, and various factors can cause joint pain, such as the extra stress placed on them by being overweight, bad posture or sports injuries.
Given our busy lifestyles it’s understandable that a lot of us never give much thought to our joints – but with a little bit of joint care knowledge, it’s easy to help keep your joints as strong and healthy as possible.
Joints – what they do
Joints are an important part of the musculoskeletal system – they’re the places where our bones meet and move together. And with over 200 bones in the human body (1), that means there are lots of joints – each with its own purpose. Everything from moving your head to flexing your toes involves joints and their surrounding tissue.
Most of the joints in our bodies are synovial joints, which allow for extremely smooth movement – with synovial fluid lubricating and reducing friction. The other types are cartilaginous joints (where there is cartilage joining the bones) and fibrous joints (where connective tissue keeps things together). Synovial joints in the body include the following types:
• Ball and socket joints – both the shoulder and hip rely on this type of joint for their circular movement
• Hinge joints – these are found in your elbows and knees, allowing you to bend and straighten your arms and legs
• Pivot joints – these allow rotary movement – such as when you move your head from side to side
Looking after your joints
There are plenty of ways to help your joints stay healthy. From choosing the right foods to eat and maintaining a healthy body weight to getting the recommended amount of exercise, you can do your bit to keep them in great shape.
Nourish your joints
An important way to help ensure joint health is to eat a healthy, balanced diet. Getting the recommended amount of protein, for instance, helps maintain muscle which is important in supporting your joints.
If you consume a wide range of foods that includes the recommended five servings of fruit and vegetables a day, this means you should be getting all the nutrients that go towards keeping your joints healthy. These include vitamin C, which is essential for building cartilage, tendons and ligaments, and vitamin D, which helps keep your bones strong and healthy – as well as all the other vitamins and minerals your body needs to stay fit, active and healthy.
Maintain a healthy weight
It’s no surprise that maintaining a healthy weight is good news for your joints – among the most common problems caused by obesity is joint and back pain (2), due to the added strain caused by carrying extra weight.
Obesity can also have an effect on the amount of exercise people get, as physical activity often feels difficult. This can become a vicious circle, since physical activity is one of the most important ways to stay within the healthy weight category.
Our joints are designed to help us move around, so as with muscles it’s important to use them – which will help keep your joints in the best shape, and maintain their flexibility. There are plenty of exercises to choose from if you’re looking to improve your fitness and help dissolve stress. Yoga, for instance, is good for joints and stability, also helping you to stay supple while reducing tension. There’s also a wide choice of exercises that count towards your weekly recommended amount of moderate-intensity aerobic activity. These low-impact activities include the following:
• Swimming – it’s easy on the joints – and can also reduce the risk of heart disease, strokes and type 2 diabetes if you swim regularly
• Cycling – a great choice for your heart, muscles and lungs. And cycling can even help reduce stress. Getting on your bike is also gentle on your joints.
• Walking – this is one of the most accessible exercises available, since it doesn’t require any special equipment.
Watch your posture
There are plenty of things that can encourage bad posture. Wearing high heels too often, mobile phone use (3), or even just feeling stressed can all add up to discomfort or pain in the long run. Poor posture can also cause joints to become out of alignment, as well as putting extra strain on joints and muscles.
Adopting a healthy posture will help your neck, hip and knee joints stay healthy, and avoid any excess strain on them. A popular method for improving posture is the Alexander Technique.
Slouching can contribute to back and neck pain, even when you’re sitting down (4). If you find yourself bent over a desk at a computer for long periods of time during the day, then make sure your chair adequately supports your back. And be sure to take regular screen breaks, giving you time to stand up and stretch your legs every so often. Studies indicate that those who spend too much time sitting could be risking their health (5) – so make sure you alternate between sitting and standing whenever you can.
It’s also important to make sure your work desk and monitor are at the right height – as well as having your chair correctly adjusted. Your employer should take these things into account when setting up your work station.
Want to find out more about joints and joint health? Check out our muscles, bones and joints pages for videos, factsheets, news and more.