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What are Joints and Cartilages?

A joint is the area where two bones are joined together. Some joints are rigid, i.e. do not provide for any movement, such as joints of the skull. Other joints are movable, i.e. they allow movement of the body parts such as knees, elbows, hands, feet, shoulders, etc. Movable joints typically have a fibrous, elastic tissue called cartilage between them. Cartilage acts as a cushion, helps in smooth movement of the bones and prevents bones from rubbing against each other.

Problems that may occur with Joints

The most common problem with the joints is wear and tear of cartilage, thus diminishing the cushioning effect. This condition is known as osteoarthritis. This leads to pain in the joint and can limit one's mobility.

Risk Factors

·  Age: Cartilages tend to become thinner as we age, so risk of osteoarthritis increases with age.

·  Being Overweight: The more weight the joints have to carry, the more the wear and tear of the cartilage. This is particularly true for the knees.

·  Weak Muscles: If your muscles are weak, then the joints have to bear more of the impact from movements in your daily activities. The stronger your muscles are, the less your joints will have to bear.

·  Injuries/Inflammation: Even minor injuries around joints can lead to inflammation, which triggers release of chemicals that are injurious to the cartilage.

·  Improper posture: Improper posture during your daily activities including standing, sitting, walking, working and even sleeping can place undue stress on your joints and muscles.

Preventive Care of Joints

·  Maintain Healthy Weight: This is the most beneficial action for preventing osteoarthritis and for managing it, if you already have that condition. Every kilogram of weight you lose reduces the pressure on your knees while walking by four times of that amount. So, even a small weight loss will give significant relief to your joints.

·  Work out for Building Muscles and Increasing Flexibility: Building muscles around your joints helps in putting less pressure on those joints. Having weak muscles increases the risk of osteoarthritis. Do weight training exercises for 2 to 3 times a week, which will help you build muscle mass. On other days, do low impact aerobics. Include stretching exercises on all the days. Consult a qualified physical therapist or a fitness trainer to recommend the most suitable exercises for you. If you are suffering from any health condition, you should consult your physician before embarking on an exercise program.

·  Be Cautious of High Impact Aerobics: Doctors advise patients with osteoarthritis against high impact aerobic exercises such as jogging, running and tennis, because these exercises put excessive stress on joints, particularly the knee. Even if you do not have osteoarthritis, it is advisable use moderation in high impact aerobic exercises. For example, if you run of play tennis regularly, it will be helpful not to do so every day - you can do so on alternate days and on other days substitute it some low impact exercises such as using elliptical trainer, bicycling, swimming, weight training, etc. You should give yourself a complete break from exercises once in a week, to allow the body to recover.

·   Avoid Injuries: If you have an injury in a joint, the chances of developing arthritis at a later stage increase. Wear protective gear such as knee pads/elbow pads when engaging in injury prone sports. Wear knee/elbow braces while playing/working out if you already have joint pains. As you grow older, it is advisable to avoid sports and other activities that can cause injury.

·   Do Proper Warm up/Cool Down/Stretching: You should warm up your muscles and joints for 5 to 10 minutes through low impact aerobic exercises, before any heavy workout. This helps in injury prevention. Likewise, you should cool down by walking slowly for a few minutes and then do stretching exercises after the workout. Do not stretch cold muscles. You must warm up before stretching, which helps in loosening the joints, ligaments and tendons. It may be best to do your stretching exercises at the end of your workout.

·   Don't be a Weekend Warrior: If you are sedentary for the whole week, and suddenly do excessive exercises on the weekend, you may end up putting undue stress on your body, which may result in an injury and also in osteoarthritis.

·   Keep Moving: Do not sit in the same position for a long time. Doing so causes stiffness in the joints. If you are sitting, keep changing positions. Get up often to stretch or walk around. Move your joints through their full range to avoid stiffness and to keep them flexible.

·   Maintain Proper Posture: Stand up and sit down straight. Proper posture prevents undue pressure on your muscles and joints, thus protecting them. Walking is a good exercise for improving your posture.

·   Eat Healthy: Foods rich in Omega-3 and Vitamin D are also known to be beneficial for the joints, through anti-inflammatory effect. Fish is a good source of Omega-3. If you don't eat fish then take fish oil supplements. Another good source of Omega-3 is flaxseeds - you can have it in the form of flaxseed oil or grounded flaxseeds. Take enough calcium rich foods to keep your bones strong, which can help you by keeping your balance and prevent injuries, which can be damaging to the joints.

·   Be Careful while Lifting and Carrying Heavy Objects: Use proper posture while lifting and carrying anything heavy. The general rule is to use a posture that uses the larger muscles and puts the least pressure on smaller muscles and on joints.