Nearly 27 million Americans live with Osteoarthritis, which is caused by the natural breakdown of cartilage over time. It is not to be confused with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) in which the body’s immune system attacks the joints and cartilage, breaking them down prematurely. Both types can effect anyone, but Osteoarthritis is the one that responds best to preventive attention and action. Contrary to popular belief, prevention and management is not about doing less with your joints; it’s about doing more of the right kinds of activities to maintain healthy joints.
Low-impact, full-range-of-motion exercises are great ways to protect your joints. Walking in a smooth, heel-to-toe fashion with long strides keeps your knees, ankles and hips limber and serves as a great warm-up for lower-body muscles. Once warmed up, slow deep-knee bends, straddle position stretching and knee, hip and ankle rolls are all recommended. For your upper body, remember slow and steady is the key. Start with making small circles with your wrists, moving up to your elbows then shoulders before gently turning your neck to one side then the other like you’re saying “no” and then up and down like nodding “yes.” Tip the head from side to side while facing forward, if you wish, but resist the urge to do wide neck circles – they can cause pinched nerves and spinal misalignment. For your back, you want to try and move through each vertebrae, either through bending, arching, twisting – or all three. Just be sure to pay attention to your body and don’t push way beyond what is comfortable. If you keep it up, the additional flexibility will come. It’s not worth risking injury when you’re working to prevent painful joint conditions. If you’re already active in high-impact sports and activities (like running and basketball) be aware that the additional impact is aging your joints prematurely. Keep up the activity, but do consider wearing a brace for backs or knees and make sure to use the proper footwear to absorb some of the shock. Like they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.