Joint health hinges, in large part, on movement.
Your joints are made to move, and movement helps them — and you — stay fit and functional. Whether you’re looking to relieve joint or arthritis pain or to avoid developing joint pain, exercise helps.
Exercise your way to joint health
From helping provide the nutrients and fluid that joints need to bolstering the network of tissues that support them, exercise helps make joints go farther. Physical activity fuels and protects joints by assisting with:
- Blood circulation — Every part of your body, including your joints, benefits from the blood flow boost that exercise provides.
- Injury prevention — A healthy joint takes teamwork. Muscles, tendons and ligaments work together to support joints and help them function. Exercise strengthens these soft tissues. That, in turn, may help you avoid joint injuries.
- Joint nutrition — Joints need oxygen and nutrients to do their job. Exercise helps fuel the process that brings these necessities into your joints.
- Lubrication — You may have heard that lubrication is good for your joints. That refers to the circulation of synovial fluid produced by a tissue called the synovial membrane that surrounds your joints. If joints represent the gears of your body, synovial fluid greases them, so to speak, allowing them to move smoothly and helping prevent joint pain. Exercise encourages the flow of synovial fluid throughout joints.
- Pain control — Arthritis causes inflammation, driving joint pain. Exercise may help alleviate pain by reducing inflammation. Exercise also helps strengthen supporting tissues and loosen stiff joints.
- Range of motion — Certain forms of exercise, such as stretching, improve or maintain range of motion. That’s important for your long-term ability to bathe, dress, cook and perform countless other daily tasks.
- Weight management — Exercise can help you lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. That’s good news for your joints, especially your hips and knees, because excess weight forces them to support a heavier load. That increases your risk of osteoarthritis.
Good moves for joint health
Given exercise’s bounty of benefits for joints, you may be eager to get moving.
Before you start exercising, however, check with your primary care provider (PCP) to help you choose appropriate exercises that won’t do your joints more harm than good.
No specific activity or category of exercise can lay claim to being the best for joint health.
That’s because your joints thrive on a well-rounded exercise regimen. Each week, participate in activities that improve your flexibility and range of motion, such as yoga, as well as strength training and aerobic exercises that strengthen the muscles around your joints.
Some forms of aerobic exercise help joints more than others, especially if you have joint pain or arthritis. Examples of good-for-your joints aerobic exercises include:
- Bicycling: Whether you prefer road cycling or indoor cycling on a stationary bike, the leg-pumping movement of bicycling can help lubricate your joints. It does that by prompting synovial fluid production.
- Hiking: Hiking can build up the muscles around joints, but take care — it can be hard on your joints if you’re traversing rocky or uneven terrain. Using trekking poles can lighten the load on your knees and help your posture.
- Swimming: Exercising in the water makes range-of-motion activities easier — and reduces joint pain — by relieving some of the burden that gravity places on your joints. Moving against the resistance of the water strengthens muscles.
- Walking: When you go for an after-dinner walk or stretch your legs on your favorite trail, you strengthen joint-supporting muscles and ensure much-needed nutrients reach your joints.
Prevent and soothe post-activity soreness
Expect some soreness when you start to exercise; it indicates an appropriate challenge to your muscles.
To reduce excess soreness, you can:
- Exercise within your limits, which means not pushing through pain and gradually ramping up your activity level.
- Participate in many types of physical activity, so you don’t overwork any particular joint or muscle group.
- Stay hydrated before, during and after exercise.
- Warm up before exercise and cool down afterward — the former helps blood flow to your muscles to prime them for exercise and the latter helps them relax post-workout.
When soreness happens, there’s plenty you can do to reduce it, including:
- Apply cold compresses or ice packs to a sore joint.
- Give the joint a break from exercise.
- Perform stretches.
- Take an over-the-counter, pain-relieving medication.
If soreness lasts for several days or worsens, or you suspect a joint injury, such as a sprain, see your PCP or visit an urgent care center.
Persistent joint pain isn’t a fact of life — it’s a treatable condition. Learn how the orthopedic experts at Tanner Ortho and Spine Center can help.