Several years ago, I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis, and then I had knee surgery in 2013. My doctor had little advice to offer except to avoid direct stress on the joints.
Since then I’ve done some research and reading and learned all kinds of ways to keep my joints flexible. Here are some personal tips I’ve discovered through trial and error that work for me:
Body Rolling. What!?
Body rolling looks like a form of yoga using partially inflated rubber balls to massage muscles and stimulate bones. My daughter Laura, who was an aerialist, discovered how much body rolling eased her sore muscles after teaching and performing, and she convinced me to go with her after my knee surgery. Thank goodness!
I regained much of my former flexibility. Foam rollers are all the current rage but Julie Phillips, who teaches body rolling at Studio in the Leathers Building, explains they only get to the surface muscles. “This goes a lot deeper, realigning bones and creating space.”
I typically do my body rolling right before bed, taking about 10 minutes to roll down my spine on the 10-inch ball. The balls are heavy duty rubber and partially inflated, with different sizes for different parts of the body. Using a smaller ball for a hamstring roll, I was able to loosen the tight muscles around my hip and knee. Phillips says her classes are designed for home healing, which has certainly worked for me. Check out www.juliephillipsbodywork.com or google Yamuna body rolling.
Wake up joints before getting out of bed. Do wrist and ankle circles and stretch before your feet hit the floor. It helps reduce stiffness.
Take a warm shower BEFORE weight lifting or any other exercise class. I take a warm shower before exercising at the gym to loosen up joints and get the blood flowing. It’s like doing a pre-warm-up before the class warms up together.
Do gentle stretching breaks throughout the day. Occasional movements (such as neck rolls, gentle back bends, hip circles) keep blood flowing to joints especially for anyone who sits for any length of time. Gentle stretches at rest stops help me handle long car rides better, too. I even take my body rolling ball to use in the car.
Slow down if necessary but stay active. These days I walk quickly and avoid the “pounding” exercises like jogging. My dogs still like to run, but I can throw them a tennis ball in the backyard and not run with them.
Gentle yoga and Tai chi. Yoga and Tai Chi can be great ways to keep joints active without stressing them. Choose a class that moves at the best pace for you. Or develop a routine at home that you enjoy enough to keep doing it regularly. Keep moving!
Get enough sleep – naps are great! Tired joints mean aching joints for me. Naps allow the body to totally relax even for a short amount of time. Avoid cell phones and computers at night. Try gentle stretches before bedtime.
Avoid certain foods such as sugar and overly processed foods. Better nutrition has helped my joints feel better. Staying away from too much sugar, salt, alcohol, red meat, and caffeine improves my energy levels, too.
He works with stiff joints every day!
Yancey Shuman, a physician assistant with Athens Bone & Joint, has 25 years of experience in the joint systems of the human body, of which there are three. But, the synovial joints are the ones we’re most aware of as we age because they are the ones that move, or are supposed to. The name synovial comes from the synovial fluid that’s in the joint capsule. Many of us can’t move our synovial joints as easily these days and we may feel pain in them.
Shuman explains there are several types of synovial joints, but the two most common are the hinge joints and ball & socket joints. Hinge joints allow us flexion and extension. Flex your bicep by bending your elbow and then extending your arm out straight. Your elbow is a hinge joint, along with your fingers and knees. Some allow a bit of rotation but not much.
Our shoulders and hips are ball & socket joints. These joints allow motion on a multiplane and not just extension and flexion. They also allow internal and external rotation. Think how the movements in the shoulder allow you to reach back to throw a ball forward. The shoulder joint moves through six different planes!
What allows this movement is the synovial fluid and 3-4 inches of articular cartilage at the end of a bone. During most of our lives we have the right amounts of that cartilage and fluid to move our joints easily. But, over time, it wears away, and unfortunately, our bodies don’t have a way to rebuild it. However, Shuman says there are some things we can do that will slow the deterioration:
Strengthen the muscles around the knee joints for stability. Knee extensions and squats strengthen the quadriceps and hamstrings, ligaments, and the tendons surrounding the knee. But, schedule workouts for times of the day when your medications are working well to reduce inflammation and pain.
Lose weight. The likelihood of joint damage is greater for those who are overweight. One extra pound gained equals three pounds of additional stress on knees. And just losing 11 pounds cuts the risk of developing knee osteoarthritis by half!
Review your behavior. Is there something you are doing frequently that is causing wear and tear? Listen to your body. For example, if there is swelling or pain in the hip or knee joints, then it’s not okay to go running or lift weights. Instead, transition to “non-pounding” exercises such as water aerobics, biking, swimming, or elliptical workouts. Just walking in a pool can be great exercise.
Do range of motion exercises to keep your joints flexible. Gentle movements that involve bending the joints are good because the health of the joint capsule depends on use. If the joint isn’t used the capsule will shrink, limiting motion.
And for those of us who already are experiencing joint pain? Shuman advises that hot shower in the morning and ice on the joint later in the day to limit inflammation. Joint braces can add warmth but he advises against overuse because muscles will begin to atrophy. And runners need to change their shoes regularly, ideally every six months. Walkers should buy “stability-type” shoes with a rigid sole and supportive insole. Most importantly, stay active!
Living Well with Osteoarthritis: A guide to keeping your joints healthy. Harvard Health Publications. Go to www.health.harvard.edu to find over 50 reports on health topics.
Wear and Tear: Stop the pain and put the spring back in your body. By Dr. Bob Arnot, 2003. Still available on Amazon and an excellent book on the problem of wear and tear with simple ways to diagnose your issues (heel pounders, stiff man syndrome, fatal flaws, etc.) and good advice on painkillers, protection, building strength, etc.).