Every year at least 600,000 knees are replaced in the U.S. and about 400,000 hips, but good joint care habits apply even to replacement joints, which more than 3 of every 100 Americans possess. That number amounts to about 7 million people living with replacement knees or hips as of a 2014 study.
It’s never too late to start caring for your joints. Bad knees, bum ankles, hip pain—while the worst joint conditions may necessitate surgery somewhere down the line, there are many joint care habits you can start practicing now to prevent or soothe joint conditions that threaten to impair your mobility. This includes what you eat, the types of supplements you take, and your general lifestyle habits.
The Anatomy of a Joint
Understanding how to care for your joints first requires an understanding of how they work. A “joint” is where two bones meet or connect, but there are a few other words you should become familiar with.
Ligament: These are the short bands of tough, fibrous tissue that connect two bones together.
Tendon: The tissue that comprises the tendon is elastic and helps the joint function as intended, connecting the muscle to the bone.
Cartilage: Another tough fibrous tissue, cartilage coats the bones’ surface to keep them from rubbing (grating) directly against each other.
These are the types of joints that move. Some don’t (the joints in the skull, for example). Most of the joints in the body are synovial and they contain slippery synovial fluid to help them glide smoothly.
Under the types of synovial joints you have:
Ball and socket joints (hip and shoulder)
Ellipsoidal joints (bending and extending, as in the base of the index finger)
Gliding joints (two flat bones held together by ligaments, as in the wrists and ankles)
Hinge joints (knee and elbow)
Pivot joints (as in the neck)
What Do Healthy Joints Need?
According to orthopedic surgeons, cartilage is unable to heal or grow back, which means that once the grating begins, there’s not much you can do to reset the clock on your natural joints. This is why many people eventually opt for surgery, but there are things you can do to minimize pain, slow the damage, and protect the cartilage that remains.
Weight loss. For every 10 pounds lost, joint pain is reduced by 20%. And for every pound lost, 4 pounds of pressure is taken off the knees.
Aerobic exercise. Pursuing your weight loss goals with bad joints limits the types of workouts you can do without simply accelerating the damage to your joints. Your best options are low impact: swimming, cycling, and walking. Shoot for 30 minutes at least 5 days a week.
Build muscle. Muscles help to absorb shock and protect the joints. For the knees, targeting muscle growth by strengthening the quads is the way to go.
Stretch daily. Good, low-impact movement is key to keeping your joints limber and nourished by natural joint fluid. Look into yoga or Pilates classes, but in the meantime, start your day with a beginner’s morning stretch routine on YouTube.
Treat your inflammation by icing your affected joints during flare-ups, or anti-inflammatory medication. According to doctors, if you’re treating flare-ups daily over the long-term, that may be a sign it’s time to look into joint replacement surgery.
Eat well. Foods that are a good source of anti-inflammatory properties or help to repair the damage caused by inflammation include: berries, nuts, orange vegetables, dark leafy greens, oily fish, red apples, onions, turmeric, basil, olive oil, and ginger.