What’s Bad For Your Joints?
Joints play a significant role in the human body and they break down as we age. However, there are bad habits we can break to protect our joints from causing pain, stiffness, and other discomforts.
As we get older, the cartilage within our hips, knees and other joints breaks down and wears away. Cartilage is a soft, elastic tissue that covers the ends of the bones at the joint and protects the bones from rubbing against each other.
Cartilage breakdown can lead to osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis that affects nearly 50 percent of people aged 65 or older, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While you cannot stop the aging process, you can make lifestyle changes to keep your joints healthy for as long as possible. The following are six bad habits that negatively affect our joints:
Cartilage receives nutrients from the surrounding joint fluid and adjacent bone. Smoking, however, reduces the flow of oxygen and critical nutrients to the joints, resulting in a loss of cartilage, says Dr. Angelie Mascarinas, a physiatrist at the Hospital for Special Surgery-Florida.
In addition, smoking also places people at risk for osteoporosis, a brittle bone disease. And, it gets worse, the American Academy of Orthopaedic (AAOS) found that seniors who smoke are 30-40 percent more likely to break their hips than nonsmokers. If that weren’t enough: two AAOS studies found that knee and hip replacements are more likely to fail in smokers than nonsmokers.
2. A physically inactive lifestyle
A lifestyle with little or no physical activity can wreck havoc on your joints. For one, you can pack on the pounds if you sit for most of the day and don’t exercise on a regular basis.
Unfortunately, being overweight or obese increases the risk of osteoarthritis in the hand, hip, and knees, according to a study published in 2016 in the journal, Arthritis & Rheumatology. The study involved more than 1.7 million people who were followed for more than four years. Researchers found that participants with a body mass index of 30 or higher had an increased risk of knee osteoarthritis.
A lifestyle change that includes joint-friendly exercise for about 30 minutes, at least five days a week can help to remedy the problem. Dr. Mascarinas suggests doing moderate, low-impact activities like walking, water aerobics, and swimming.
Dr. Akhil Chhatre, director of spine rehabilitation and assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, advises his patients to get up every 30 minutes or so and stretch for a few minutes.
Although Dr. Chhatre advises his patients to be physically active during the day, he also cautions to “expect increased pain with increased activity.”
Dr. Mascarinas suggests people with osteoarthritis should avoid deep squats and deep lunges, running, repetitive jumping, and activities like basketball and tennis that involve quick turns and sudden stops.
3. Too much exercise
Just as a lack of exercise is bad for the joints, overexercising puts too much stress on the joints. According to Dr. David Porter, an orthopedic foot and ankle surgeon in Indianapolis recommends finding a “happy medium between exercising our muscles and not overdoing the stress on the joints.”
Dr. Porter recommends a combination of aerobic exercise and strength training, something that would benefit the muscles of 70, 80, and 90-year-olds. According to Dr. Porter, studies show that people with arthritis who keep their muscles in good shape manage arthritis much better.
The good news is physical activity doesn’t have to be difficult; it can be as practical as going up and down stairs; exercising in a chair, or going for a walk. According to Dr. Potter, muscles in good condition can possibly decrease the risk of falls.
4. Carrying a heavy load
Frequent lifting of a grandchild or filled-to-capacity boxes, or other heavy objects places a great deal of strain on all parts of the body, but especially the joints. According to Dr. Porter, carrying heavy loads creates an imbalance throughout the body, and this imbalance places stress on the joints. Dr. Porter defines “heavy” as “any amount of weight that requires more than one hand to pick it up.”
The Arthritis Foundation recommends using the palms of both hands or using both arms instead of the hands when lifting or carrying objects. Also, holding objects close to your body puts less stress on your joints.
5. Eating Joint-Inflamming Foods
French fries, potato chips, red meat, and soda all taste good, but excess body fat from these and similar foods can also create and release chemicals that cause joint inflammation.
In fact, foods that inflame the joints can also worsen joint pain, Dr. Mascarinas says. What’s more, a study published in the journal, Rheumatology, found a strong association between high cholesterol, usually attributed to eating fatty foods, and knee and hand osteoarthritis.
Nutritionists recommend replacing high-cholesterol foods, like fried foods and processed meat, with low-cholesterol foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fish such as salmon and mackerel. These foods are not only good for the joints but can benefit the entire body.
6. Overusing your smartphone
The most you can get from talking briefly on a smartphone is possibly a cramp in your hand. But, you may end up with “text claw” if you constantly use the phone’s keyboard. Text claw is a nonmedical term referring to the overuse of the wrist and hand muscles from texting, scrolling, and other activities performed on a smartphone. According to Porter, texting “creates inflammation of the joints and tendon sheaths which can lead to pain and stiffness.”
It’s not just about texting. Constant use of laptops, tablets, and any other device with a keyboard can inflame the joints in the hands. But, there is a remedy for preventing joint pain: Take breaks from texting and using other electronic devices. Also, instead of texting with your fingers, try using the speech-to-text function on your smartphone.