How to Improve Joint Health and Avoid Permanent Damage

By: Donald J. Zoltan, MD

Did you know?

Despite popular beliefs, arthritis isn’t a specific disease or something that only impacts the elderly. The word arthritis is actually a generic term that refers to any type of joint pain, injury or disease. In fact, according to the Arthritis Foundation, there are more than 100 different types of arthritis and related conditions. It can affect anyone and the cause is typically injury or disease. You can be a 23-year-old basketball player in fantastic physical shape, but a game time fall that results in a traumatic blow to your elbow could lead to arthritis.

You can’t cure arthritis, but you can prevent permanent joint damage and reduce its toll. So, let’s talk about how to get proactive with joint health and clear up many of the common misconceptions of arthritis.

Causes of permanent joint damage

It’s hard to solve a problem without knowing its root cause. But understanding what causes arthritis is tricky, especially since it takes shape in so many ways. For example, Osteoarthritis results when cartilage tissue is worn away through wear and tear. Your joints need cartilage. It serves as a shock absorber for your bones. Without it, your mobility is limited and your joint screams with pain.

On the other end of the spectrum is Rheumatoid Arthritis, which is an autoimmune disease that attacks joint tissue. This type of joint damage is unfortunately not completely preventable. However, I mention it to illustrate the wide spectrum of causes and types of joint damage.

For athletes and less active, healthy adults alike, the most common joint issues can usually be mitigated. One prime culprit linking joint strains, bursitis, cartilage deterioration and other conditions is inflammation.

Proactive measures

An inflamed joint is an angry joint. To prevent arthritis and permanent joint damage, we aim for non-inflamed happy joints. Sounds simple, but what exactly does happy mean in this case?

First and foremost, exercise is key. Like the rest of your body, joints need to be strong, so work them out. A common misconception is that you must avoid exercise to protect your joints. If your favorite workout is high impact, like running, there’s often no need to stop. However, if you are healing from an injury or dealing with a disease, then yes — chose a low or no-impact alternative activity. Just be mindful of joint health and modify your activity accordingly.

For example, make adjustments to your workouts. Don’t overuse one particular joint. Your activity or exercise should be varied. Make sure that you keep the muscles that surround and protect your joints strong with weight training. Use ice after workouts to prevent swelling, and make sure to invest in good shoes and the right gear for your sport or activity.

You can try joint supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin, but studies indicate they might not be very effective.

Your diet can also make a big difference. If you’re concerned about joint health, drink alcohol in moderation. Avoid high sodium and inflammatory foods like sugar and fried treats. A balanced diet is good for you in many ways, including joint health.

If you know in advance that you’re going to run a marathon or even if you’re planning a non-sports, yet physically demanding activity like babysitting quadruplets for six hours, you can take medications like over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) such as aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen sodium. Just be sure to do so in moderation, as there can be an increased risk of heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular events with NSAIDs.

When to see a doctor

Like the 23-year-old basketball player who fell on his not-so-funny bone, if you’re suffering from joint pain you should see a doctor. The earlier you get care for an injury, the better the outcome when it comes to preventing or minimizing permanent damage.

Aside from trauma or injury, if you’re regularly feeling joint stiffness, ongoing acute pain or suffering from lack of mobility, make an appointment with your orthopedic doc or a specialist right away.

Arthritis isn’t always preventable, but understanding what keeps your joints healthy will help you lead a long, active life with minimal issues. Take good care of your joints and they will return the favor.

Feeling joint discomfort? Book your appointment today.