Bone and joint health is one of those things people tend to neglect until the health of their bones and joints are compromised by injury, age, or a medical condition. When it comes to health and fitness, most people are only considering two factors in their body composition: muscle and fat, but what about the bones that hold your whole body up and the joints that enable your movement? Bone and joint injuries are some of the most painful and debilitating conditions a person can endure and they are often long lasting or chronic.
What are some conditions or injuries that can affect my bones and joints?
Osteoporosis is one of the biggest concerns: Osteoporosis is the loss of bone density which can put a person at significant risk for easily broken bones. 50% of women, and 25% of men in American will develop some level of Osteoporosis at some point in their life.
Osteoarthritis is another degenerative disorder in which the cartilage in the joints wears down, forcing bone-on-bone grinding when movement is happening. This painful condition regularly affects more than 27 million Americans.
Scoliosis is disorder in which the spine is deformed with irregular curvature. This can be something that can be caused by another medical condition such as cerebral palsy, or caused by something as simple as holding your backpack on one shoulder for a long enough period of time. The abnormal curvature of the spine can be subtle and hardly noticeable, or it can be so extreme that it causes issues with movement.
Tendinitis is a less alarming condition in which the tendons in a joint are inflamed and irritated by overuse or misuse. This will cause pain during movement sometimes so severe that it will entirely inhibit movement. Sometimes tendinitis will go away with physical therapy or even steroid shots by your doctor, and sometimes it is more persistent, leaving a person living with chronic pain on and off for years.
Bone fractures/ breaks, and ligament tears are some of the most common bone and joint injuries. About 6.8 million people experience bone fractures annually, and over 100,000 people a year will rupture their ACL alone-that’s one of the most important ligaments in the knee joint! Some require a simple RICE treatment whereas some will require a full surgery-the healing process for either being uncomfortable and lengthy.
These are just some of the examples of the conditions or injuries that can affect your bone and joint health, and ultimately your quality of life.
How can I deal with or prevent a bone and joint injury or condition?
As with most medical conditions, there are many facets of dealing with bone and joint injury or condition, proper nutrition being one of the biggest. Your nutrient intake will need to be conducive to healthy regeneration of bone and connective tissues, which you will often hear means getting enough calcium and vitamin D. You may have also heard suggestions of essential amino acid intake, vitamins with antioxidant properties such as A, C, & E, and probably even some holistic supplements known to lubricate and strengthen joints. If you have an existing condition or injury, your doctor will be able to advise you on what your body specifically needs to deal with what it is going through-heed this advice with seriousness.
You may or may not be surprised to hear that another big factor in your bone and joint health is your exercise routine-or lack thereof. With conditions such as Osteoporosis and Osteoarthritis, the thought of exercising can sound miserable and even scary but it is crucial in preventing and dealing with issues in the bones and joints. If you have no existing condition and are simply looking to take preventative measure, general strength training and cardiovascular exercises 3-5 times a week will do the trick. If you have an existing condition or injury, it will be in your best interest to see a professional (physical therapist or personal trainer) to help you find the best workouts for you with as little irritation as possible (especially in the instance of Osteoarthritis).
What does exercise do for bone density?
It can be relieving to know that certain types of exercises will actually help increase bone density:
- Strength training exercises are great for increasing bone density and highly suggested to people with Osteoporosis. Essentially what happens is as you build muscle around your bones (and no it does not have to be a Hulk amount of muscle) your bones, out of necessity, respond by become denser so as to prevent themselves from being crushed under the pressure of the muscle.
- Plyometric or high impact exercises yield the same result. With things like jumping, clap push-ups, wall balls-pretty much anything that will give your bones a little jolt-the vibration through the bone stimulates growth in the bone density. For plyometric exercises, please seek the advice of a professional-because they are more dynamic and have more impact, they can also be more dangerous. Check with a personal trainer about the proper way to perform some of these exercises just to be safe.
What does exercise do for arthritis?
With arthritis and the pain of it, there is a very strong inclination for most people to neglect moving entirely. In many of my clients I have heard “I have arthritis in this shoulder so I cannot do anything with it.” This is completely understandable-I have arthritis in one wrist and pain of it is just downright unbearable sometimes. Unfortunately, this is often counterproductive to reducing the long-term pain of arthritis because the joint will essentially become stuck in the one position you leave it in. So when it comes to an instance where you NEED to move that joint (picking up your child or catching something before it falls on your toe) the joint is completely deconditioned to movement of any kind, and a single and simple movement will hurt more than it should for longer than it should, or even cause an injury. When you exercise with arthritis you help to lubricate the joint to keep it flexible and allow it to move more with less pain. You probably won’t ever be able to do anything wild with it like lifting heavy weights or doing handstand push-ups, but you will be better able to do day to day activities without feeling like your arthritis is holding you back.
If you have severe arthritis or lack mobility in a joint due to your arthritis, I would encourage you to seek the help of an exercise professional. Your care of the exercises for your arthritis should be delicate and progressed slowly so as not to unnecessarily irritate your arthritis.
How does exercise help prevent injuries to bone and joints?
Most people know that once you’ve injured a bone or joint you will likely have a surgery followed by Physical Therapy-a rehabilitative process which can include massaging, mobility and flexibility training, and strength training. (My personal suggestion is to do a two-step rehabilitative process in which you follow your Physical Therapy with training with a well-educated personal trainer before you get back into your regular exercise routine but that is not always necessary or doable.) You can, however, use exercise to minimize your risk of having to go through any of this at all. Exercises that challenge your balance and stability are helpful to preventing falls or accidents that cause injury in the first place. They also increase strength within the joint, often in multiple directions. Bosu Balls, balance disks, balance boards or even uniped exercises are great for challenging the stability of exercises. Let me give some examples of some of my favorites:
1. Lateral Soft Box Step Ups:
Because most of our daily movements happen in the sagittal plane, I find it common in my clients that the lateral muscles on the body tend to be some of the most unstable-specifically the ones around the knee. A shallow lateral step up with the feet and knees forward will be challenging enough for most people as it is (it is a common inclination to turn the toes in the direction you step in-even when going sideways) but adding the soft box underneath renders the foot and ankle a little bit unstable. As a result this exercise (when performed safely) will assist in the training of the lateral muscles on the ankle, knee and hip so that when you go to jump out of the way of something flying at you, and you have to side step, you won’t be as inclined to lose your footing and fall.
2. Bosu Ball Planks or Push Ups:
The joints down the arm are some of the most at risk places for injury for so many reasons: they’re often undertrained, postural issues around the shoulders will cause movement discrepancies down the arms, the elbows and wrists are often overused, etc. I have found that training the whole arm for balance and stability is not often thought of, but something that helps reduce occurrences of tendinitis, upper back and neck pain, and reduces the pain of arthritis in the wrists. When planking or performing push-ups on a Bosu Ball (round side up) you will find it feels very shaky at first-you may even need to regress your exercise a bit by bringing the knees down. The weight of your body will be shifting around to different parts of your hands, your triceps will quiver and your elbows will desperately want to lock (don’t let them!). Practice being still on this unstable surface and you will find that over time you will have an enhanced ability to stabilize at the shoulders, bear weight down the arm, and even do plyometric things like clap push-ups without feeling like you are going to break a wrist.
How can exercise help with scoliosis?
Depending on the intensity of your scoliosis, exercise can be difficult or even painful. Your body may not move correctly and cause further postural distortions if you don’t really know what you’re doing. If you are not correcting your scoliosis separately from your exercise (back brace or surgery), I would suggest working under the supervision of a professional while exercising to be sure that you don’t hurt yourself. If your scoliosis is minor enough and you have access to an educated and dedicated exercise professional, there are certain exercises that can even help correct your scoliosis entirely. At any rate, building strength around your spine the way that it is, will help alleviate some of the chronic pain you may experience in severe cases of scoliosis. If your scoliosis is not too severe, strengthening the back muscles may help prevent the scoliosis from getting worse. Keep in mind that the exercises will help reinforce the muscles around the spine, like a very low-grade back brace, so doing some form of even light exercise will feel better on scoliosis than sitting in one spot and letting your back hang over itself.
To their own detriment, most people leave their considerations of bone and joint health in the back of their mind until something (usually painful) calls it forward. While there are many factors to healthy bones and joints, exercise is one of the biggest and most renowned. Just a little bit of physical focus 3-5 times a week is all it takes to help improve the health of your bones and joints. Take some time to get up and move today, implement training for your bones and joints into your exercise routine and get ahead of any potential injuries or conditions. If you already suffer from an injury or condition, do not worry! Your body has an amazing ability to heal, grow, and adapt-NO MATTER YOUR AGE OR WHAT YOU’RE HEALING FROM! It’s never too late to start training your bones and joints for health, strength, and stability.