Joint : Exercise for Healthy Joints

Joints are located where two bones meet and they give our skeleton flexibility, without them our bodies simply wouldn’t be able to move. Knees, elbows, shoulders, and hips are some major joints that allow us to do the activities we enjoy, whether that’s just doing the regular activities of daily living or participating in competitive sports.

Healthy joints include the bones surrounded by smooth cartilage which are protected by a joint capsule filled with synovial fluid. The bones are fastened together by ligaments and the muscles are connected to the bones by tendons.  It is a complex system and much can go wrong leading to injury or diseased joints. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, close to 20 million people visited a physician due to knee problems in 2003 making it the most common reason people visit an orthopedic surgeon. Athletes, or anyone putting physical demands on their body, can strain the muscles around the joint. Improper alignment further strains the joint and surrounding tissues increasing the risk of injury and pain. But, there are activities that support healthy joints by improving body and muscle alignment and strengthening the muscles and ligaments that surround the joint to help increase range of motion and stability.

Strength training is important in preventing injuries. Strong muscles can act like shock absorbers to the joint, but this function is diminished when muscles are too weak or too tight. Working out the muscles that surround the joint that both pull and push is essential, such as biceps and triceps or hamstrings and quadriceps. Working with a knowledgeable trainer or therapist is important. They can develop a strength training program tailored to your individual needs, whether you are trying to prevent injury or recover.

Increasing flexibility can also help reduce the risk of injury. Exercises that are low-impact and focus on strength and flexibility include both yoga and pilates. Yoga movements can help strengthen the muscles surrounding and supporting the joint and increase flexibility.  Specific yoga poses, which can vary in their degree of difficulty, can improve body alignment, strength and flexibility. Popular among dancers and somewhat similar to yoga, Pilates focuses on breathing, muscle control and proper alignment. It can help with balance and core strength which helps better support the spine and pelvis. If you are recovering from an injury or suffer with arthritis or other medical problems, it is recommended you seek out a trained therapist knowledgeable about your condition. They can custom design a program specifically for your body.

Tai chi is gentle martial art that combines meditation with slow, graceful movements to improve balance, strength and flexibility.  The movements require your hip and knee joints to be slightly bent, thus increasing the strength of supporting muscles around the joint. There is a large body of evidence that has found Tai Chi to be effective at improving factors related to falling including balance, strength and flexibility.

This article is for information only and is not intended to diagnose, cure, or treat any conditions. Please seek the advice and care of a qualified healthcare provider if you have any concerns about the health of your joints.

Megan Witt

References:
http://www.loc.gov/rr/scitech/mysteries/joint.html

http://biology.clc.uc.edu/fankhauser/Labs/Anatomy_&_Physiology/A&P201/Articulations/Joints.htm

The joint capsule: structure, composition, ageing and disease.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1259958/

http://www.webmd.com/balance/features/tai-chi-joint-pain-relieve

A Comprehensive Review of Health Benefits of Qigong and Tai Chi
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3085832/

http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00325

Core Concepts Musculoskeletal Health Group
http://www.coreconcepts.com.sg/

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