As the weather around Puget Sound turns sunnier and warmer, many of us will be taking part in any number of outdoor recreational activities the area has to offer. Whether you’re out for a hike or bike ride with the family or playing an organized team sport, taking care of your knees, hips and other joints will go a long way in ensuring you can enjoy all of summer’s fun activities.
The human body has an incredible capacity to repair itself, but our joints are surprisingly delicate. When the cartilage that cushions the bones in your joints wears away, it does not grow back. Thinning cartilage can contribute to osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative arthritis. It can be a painful and often debilitating condition. But, lucky for us, there are some simple ways we can protect our joints now to avoid possible painful discomfort later.
One of the simplest things you can do to reduce pressure on your body’s joints is control your weight. When you walk, each knee bears a force equivalent to three to six times your body’s weight. For a person weighing just 150 pounds that means your knees are taking a 450-pound or more beating with every step. You can certainly lessen the pressure on your joints by being lighter on your feet.
Try exercises that are low-impact. Running on hard pavement, playing tennis on concrete or skiing over lots of moguls puts your joints under a lot of stress, particularly the knees. If you run on a regular basis, try running on a treadmill or trading out one run a week with something a little more low-impact like swimming, biking or tai chi.
This seems like a no-brainer, but being able to avoid injuries to your knees and other joints will greatly reduce your risk of osteoarthritis. Studies have shown that even 10 to 20 years after a person has injured the anterior cruciate ligament or menisci of the knee they have a 50 percent chance of developing arthritis in that same knee. So weekend warriors be forewarned – sitting behind a desk all week and then playing sports for several hours on the weekend puts you at higher risk for injury which means higher risk for arthritis later on.
Remember, the better toned your muscles are the less likely you are to suffer an injury. Building up your muscles around joints makes them act as a shock absorber and enables them to spread the stress of any physical activity across the entire joint. Moderate weight lifting, swimming, yoga and Pilates are all nonimpact forms of exercise that firm up your joint’s muscles without compromising the cartilage.
Finally, be skeptical of specialized nutrients like shark cartilage, glucosamine and chondroitin which are popular supplements marketed to improve the health of your joints. While they may sound like a cure-all, most medical specialists agree that they offer limited health benefits.
The bottom line is taking care of your knees, ankles, hips and other joints is a lot like taking care of your car. With proper care and regular maintenance they will all last a lot longer.
About the writer: Dr. Michael G. Miller is an orthopedic surgeon with Franciscan Medical Clinic in Enumclaw. Need a doctor? Call the Franciscan Physician Referral Line toll-free: 1-888-825-3227.