If you have been working out for a while, you understand the importance that your joints have in your ability to keep training hard. When your joints are not operating at their peak, the ability to perform certain exercises and lift heavy weights becomes limited. To perform a basic exercise like the bench press, for example, you need healthy wrists, elbows, and shoulders.
If any of these joints suffers an injury, then the quality of your workout will suffer as well. Fortunately, there are simple joint care techniques you can use to take the pressure off your joints and help prevent serious injury or damage.
Dangers of not Properly Caring for Your Joints
Joints and their surrounding structures allow people to wiggle their hips, bend their knees and elbows, turn their heads, bend their backs, and wave their fingers to say hi or bye. A joint connects two bones. Smooth tissue called synovium and cartilage and the synovial fluid cushion the joints to prevent bones from rubbing together. However, sitting the wrong way, injury, increasing age, or carrying too much weight can eat away the cartilage, leading to a reaction that can damage the joints and cause arthritis.
Osteoarthritis is a condition that mainly affects the cartilage, which is the smooth, rubbery tissue that covers the bones in a joint. Ideally, the cartilage should allow the bones to glide over each other without friction. It absorbs the shock caused by movement. However, when it breaks down and wears away, it can cause osteoarthritis.
The friction causes swelling, pain, and loss of motion. In fact, the joint may lose its shape over time. Bits of cartilage and bones can even break away and float inside the joint space, which can cause more damage and pain. Unlike other types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis affects only the joints and not other parts of the body.
In addition to osteoarthritis, dislocations, sprains, and strains are three more things that you want to avoid. When it comes to stiffness, joint pain, dislocations, sprains, and strains, 35 is the new 50. When I was in my early 20s, I would go to a gym, jump on a machine and start exercising without thinking twice about my joints. Now, as I approach 40, I am thinking more and more about my joints. In fact, before I learnt how to protect my joints during workouts, there were days when it seemed easier to skip my exercises altogether than to cope with my stiff and achy knees. The fact that you are reading this article proves that you can relate to what I went through.
The older we get, the more likely we are to experience aching and mild soreness when we exercise, climb stairs, stand, or jog. An aging body does not recover as swiftly as it did in the past. In addition, the cartilage naturally deteriorates with age. In a sense, it is like a vehicle’s shock absorbers which wear out with time and continued use. As we age, we begin to experience more of the physical toll our bodies are going through. In addition, we tend to lose bone strength and muscle tone the older we get, which can make physically demanding tasks more taxing.
Most sports–related injuries have something to do with the joints. When exercising for fitness and health, individuals can be more at risk of suffering injuries caused by overuse. The good news is that when you learn how to protect your joints during exercising, you can avoid serious injury.
How to Protect Your Joints during Exercising
Exercise provides numerous health–related benefits. However, it also comes with a certain level of injury risk. Depending on the type of workout, you can put a lot of stress on your joints. Nevertheless, this is not a good enough reason for you to opt out of exercise. The key is to do it safely and choose movements and activities that reduce your risk of pain, injury, or any other complications.
So how do you make sure you’re not doing more harm than good when working out? By creating a workout routine based on your abilities and requirements, as well as following some safety measures. Proper joint care can transform a typical workout into an enjoyable part of your daily exercise routine.
Most joint injuries are caused by a variety of factors, including failure to warm–up, improper technique and training, sudden directional changes, overuse, and even falls. Of course, health conditions such as degenerative disc disease, osteoporosis, and arthritis can affect the joints as well. The most common joint injuries, however, occur as a result of repeated impact on the joints. The level of impact can vary depending on the type of activity.
Injuries to walkers and runners, for example, typically affect the ankle joints, knees, and hips, since the lower body absorbs most of the impact. On the other hand, tennis players often suffer from elbow joint problems, while people who play high–impact sports can often experience joint twists, tears, and sprains due to the force of a sudden directional change. However, you do not have to be a professional athlete to experience joint injury.
Most Common Mistakes that Lead to Joint Injury
Workout warriors often suffer joint injuries due to a few simple mistakes that can be avoided. Here are a few mistakes you should avoid in order to enjoy exercise without injury or pain.
• Doing too much, too soon
• Muscle strength that increases too rapidly
• Wearing the wrong footwear
• Doing the same routine all the time
• Using improper technique
• Lack of proper nutrition
• Omitting the warm–up, cool down, and stretches
• Doing too many high–impact activities
• Skimping on rest and recovery
What Types of Stretches are the Best?
Active stretching can protect joints and build muscle. Most people know that they should stretch before exercising; however, many are unsure of when or how to best do so. Stretching is an important part of every workout regime. Stretching, whether static or dynamic, maintains the range of motion around joints. A stiff joint is more prone to swelling, which can significantly weaken the muscle fibers protecting the joint. Some of the reasons why you should stretch include:
• To reduce muscle tension
• To prevent injury
• To improve movement within joints
• To maintain proper muscle length
• To promote body awareness
• To compensate for training load and strenuous activity
• To increase range of movement
• To boost circulation
Your weight bearing joints, such as the knees, hips, and spine, take the load of your body weight. It is, therefore, important to protect them from wear and tear while exercising. Stiffness begets stiffness. Thus, keeping your joints mobile is key to reducing pain and stiffness. Low–impact stretching and bending keep pain and discomfort to a minimum. The best time to stretch is before and after a workout, or after being idle or stationary for long periods.
Stretches for Healthy Joints
Daily stretching is an under-emphasized part of joint care exercises. Some of the best stretching tips to include in your daily routine include:
• Working with a physical therapist to come up with a good plan. Once you learn how to stretch without injuring yourself, you can include it in your normal workout routine.
• Fingers are a common site of stiffness, swelling, and joint pain. Rest your hand on a flat surface palm down and lift each finger as high off the surface as possible. Then, rest the hand palm up and bend all your fingers into the palm of your hand. Finally, hold out your hand and touch each fingertip to your thumb. Repeat these exercises six times for better flexibility.
• Stretch your forearm and elbow for at least 15 minutes each day.
• For a healthy neck, move your head around while sitting upright in a straight–backed chair.
• Lie on your back on a flat, firm surface with your feet flat on the surface and your knees bent upwards. Without bouncing your backbone, stretch your legs slowly and hold each back stretch for 5 seconds. Repeat the movement ten times.
• For healthy feet, stand on a flat, firm surface and press down with your toes, while at the same time increasing the arch of your foot. With your legs out straight, move each foot up and down and try to make a complete circle with each foot.
• Finally, you can include some stretching in your warm–up and cool–down periods.
Is There a Specific Warm-Up you can do?
It is important to warm–up all major muscle groups before working out and stretch afterwards to improve flexibility. Unfortunately, most people tend to forget the warm–up process. It does not have to be complicated or long. Five minutes of light activity, such as walking, is all you need to warm up your muscles and get your blood flowing. If you are planning on having an intense workout, it pays to start off slow and let your muscles and body warm up to give your circulatory system, cartilage, and ligaments time to adapt.
Workout Tips for Healthy Joints
Steer clear of behind–the–neck presses
Avoid moving your arms and hands behind the plane of your shoulders when weightlifting. For example, a behind–the–neck lat pull down or overhead bench press may place your shoulders in an unstable position, which may lead to injury. Most people have poor muscle flexibility in addition to limited shoulder joint mobility, so they may hurt themselves when performing such exercises. There are more effective and safer workouts to perform.
Get proper nutrition
Minimizing excess body fat and inflammatory responses are two ways of ensuring healthy joints and muscles. A diet that is more alkaline has been proven to help lower inflammation and provide more energy. You should include foods such as spinach, papaya, kale, berries, dates, avocados, apples, and ginger in your diet. In addition, foods such as legumes, nuts, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and fish are excellent for joint care.
Shake things up
People who want to avoid injuries caused by overuse, not to mention boredom and burnout, should understand that it is a bad idea to stick to the same routine every single day. Shaking things up is even more important if you are suffering from arthritis or achy joints. Muscles involved in the function and control of joints become weak from overuse, which can increase the risk of injury.
Alternate lower and upper body workouts
The popular exercise advice is to work your major muscles first and then work the smaller ones, mainly because the smaller ones support and stabilize the larger ones. However, switching between the lower and upper body workouts makes life easier for your joints by allowing them a longer recovery time between exercises. For example, when weight training, you should alternate between leg and arm exercises to prevent overuse of one joint or body part.
It is important to cool down at the end of a workout and take time off between workouts to allow your muscles and joints to recover. In addition, proper form when working out is important. It is better to do ten right than fifty wrong. Remember to drink a lot of water before, during, and after your workout. Water helps to lubricate the joints, thereby relieving joint pain. Finally, when taking part in high–risk activities, remember to wear a helmet, elbow pads, knee pads, and wrist pads.