Many aging adults are susceptible to osteoarthritis (the type of arthritis that affects bones by wearing down the cushion that pads the space between them). Osteoarthritis results into painful joints and may eventually lead to can’t-get-up-from-the-sofa pain.
Osteoarthritis And Aging
The osteoarthritis mostly starts as our bodies begin to show the effects of aging.
In women, it occurs more frequently after age 50; in men, it’s more likely before age 45. The sites of joint pain are usually different for men and women. Women are more prone to develop osteoarthritis in their hands, knees, ankles, or feet, while men are more susceptible to develop it in their wrists, hips, or spine.
But just because this condition is very common doesn’t mean that it’s inexorable. In fact we can do a number of things to either avert or control it.
Read on here to find about joints anatomy, how your joints function, how does aging affect the joints, why your joints become stiff as you grow old, what’s good for joints and how to keep your joints healthy.
Joints Anatomy And Function
Our joints connect one bone to another to give us the ability to bend, twist, and carry on our daily activities. But the bones do not directly contact each other. They are cushioned by cartilage that lines our joints (articular cartilage), synovial membranes around the joint and a lubricating fluid inside our joints (synovial fluid).
Cartilage function is to work as a shock absorber to prevent bones from grinding against each other.
Joints also have connective tissues, called as ligaments, which basically serve as a bridge from one bone to the other via your muscles.
What Happens To Our Joints As We Age?
Our joint movements get stiffer and less flexible as we grow old, because the amount of lubricating fluid inside our joints reduces and the cartilage becomes thinner. Ligaments also tend to shorten and lose some flexibility, making joints feel stiff.
Factors Contributing To Osteoarthritis
Our joints can start to lose cushioning because of the following reasons:
Aging: According to David Felson, M.D., professor of medicine at Boston University, who specializes in bone and joint problems: “Cartilage thins as we age. That makes it easier to damage.”
Over time, the surface of cartilage can change from smooth to fissured.
Previous injuries: Minor joint injuries (an unfortunate twist here or there) when you were younger can be a factor. To quote Felson: “Even people who don’t remember injuries see areas of damage with age”.
Inflammation: Small injuries disturb the biomechanics of your joints, which in turn, alters the molecules structure that forms cartilage. This usually causes low levels of inflammation. According to Sharon Kolasinski, M.D., an associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of Pennsylvania: “Inflammatory cells can gather at a site of injury and release chemicals destructive to cartilage.”
Loss of muscle mass: As a natural aging process, we lose some muscle mass as we grow old. If we don’t work to retain it, our joint – instead of our muscle – will be exposed to more of the pounding from daily living, and that leads to more damage.
Excess weight: The more a joint has to carry, the more damage it suffers in the long run. This is particularly true for knees, which have to support our body weight.
To quote Kolasinski: “All these little wear-and-tear events throughout life erode cartilage. The cushion can get thinner until there’s nothing left.”
Best Ways To Protect Your Joints As You Age
Although, you can’t restore cartilage that’s already lost, but there are many steps you can take to avert the wear and tear, improve joint health and decrease the pain associated with osteoarthritis.
Maintain A Healthy Weight: This is the best thing you can do to maintain your joints’ health. Maintaining your weight down helps to control occurrence of small tears, which damage cartilage. If you are overweight, you are likely putting more stress on your joints than you realize. Actually, a weight loss of as less as 11 pounds can decrease arthritis pain by fifty percent for many women. Weight loss can also help slow down the development of osteoarthritis over time.
Vary Your Exercise: Exercise helps lower stiffness in the joints. Experts advise varying your workout routine. Do low or no-impact aerobic exercises (swimming, walking, or cycling) twice a week, strength exercises (lifting light weights or household items) twice a week, mixed with stretching and relaxation exercises. To quote Kolasinski: “You don’t want to overtax any one area, because that’ll increase pain, and then you might avoid exercise altogether”.
Tip: Make sure to warm up for at least 5 minutes before you begin your exercise routine and cool down for 5 minutes after you finish it. For this purpose work with the same muscles that you’ll be using during exercise, but at a slower pace. Warming up is especially important as you age; older joints are often less resilient.
Target Your Muscles: Weight training helps to strengthen your muscles and ligaments surrounding joints, safeguarding them from damage. Modify muscle-strengthening moves in such a manner that they don’t put more pressure on the joint of the part you’re exercising. For instance, Kolasinski suggests that people with arthritis perform seated leg lifts instead of squats and lunges, which can increase strain on the knees.
Seated Leg Lifts: Sit on a chair, placing your both feet on the floor. Bend your knee and raise your leg so that it’s parallel to the floor. You can perform one leg at a time or both. As the movement becomes easier, you can add ankle weights to enhance the resistance and gain even more muscle strength.
Add Ice: Icing your joints for about 10 minutes after exercise can help you prevent pain and manage swelling. When you exercise, a lubricant called synovial fluid is drawn to your joints. But if the fluid sticks around too long after exercise, it can leads to cracks in the cartilage.
To quote Kevin Olds, M.S.P.T., C.S.C.S., a physical therapist at Campbell Clinic in Memphis, Tennessee: “Ice gets the fluid out of the joint and into the lymphatic system, the garbage disposal of the body”.
Best Foods For Joint Health: Experts claim that the omega-3 fatty acids contained in fish help lessen symptoms associated with joint pain and also mollify the levels of inflammation, which might be causing some of the pain. Fish oil cuts down the production of inflammation-signaling cells. Salmon and Tuna are the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
Experts also claim that lack of vitamin D impacts your joints-health adversely, via an anti-inflammatory effect. It’s recommended that you get 400 to 800 International Units of vitamin D every day.
Note: One cup of milk contains 100 IUs, and three ounces of salmon has 300-650.
Find here Foods That Prevent Arthritis
Drink Enough Water
Water makes up about 80 percent of your body’s cartilage (the flexible, connective tissue that cushions your joints). If you don’t stay well hydrated, your body will pull water from cartilage and other areas. This can wreak havoc on your joints.
Listen to your body’s cues: Make sure you have water available at all times. When you feel thirsty, drink. And increase hydration during hot weather and when exercising.
Tip: Avoid drinking soda and energy drinks. Instead drink more water.