Overview

A joint (or an articulation) is the connection between two bones in the body and is typically made up of fibrous connective tissue and cartilage. There are different types of joints, which permit us to make various types of movements. The direction a joint can move in is determined by the shape of the joint surfaces and the surrounding muscles or ligaments. Maintaining healthy joints plays an important role in helping you stay active and feeling great. Here are some bad habits to avoid, which can put the health of your joints at risk.

1. Being overweight

Many of the body’s joints, including the knees, hips and spine, bear the weight of the entire body. The joints’ cartilage serves as a crucial “shock absorber,” and being overweight increases the weight load placed on the weight-bearing joints (including the knee and the spine), and contributes to the breakdown of cartilage. In fact, carrying only 10 pounds of extra weight increases the force on the knee by 30-60 pounds with each step.

According to the results of scientific studies, being overweight is a major contributing factor to developing osteoarthritis, which is the most common joint disorder and arises due to joint wear and tear. In addition, being overweight causes the increase of inflammatory factors secreted in the body, which are associated with problems with other joints (for example, the hands).

Combining regular physical activity with a healthy diet is the best way to maintain a healthy weight.

Calculating your body mass index (BMI) is a great way to determine whether you are carrying around extra weight. A BMI of 18.5-24.9 is considered to be healthy, a BMI of 25-29.9 is considered to be overweight, while a BMI over 30 indicates obesity.

2. Unhealthy eating habits

Maintaining healthy joints requires consuming a healthy diet. Not consuming enough nutrients, such as calcium and Vitamin D, while eating too many foods which contribute to inflammation can be damaging for the body’s joints.

The types of foods which are considered to be “inflammatory” include foods that are:

  • high in sugar (including soft drinks)
  • refined carbohydrates (such as white bread and pastries)
  • fried foods (such as French fries)
  • red meat (especially when fried, including burgers and steak)
  • saturated fats (such as margarine, lard and shortening)

Consuming these foods are not only associated with weight gain, but also with increased risk of chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes and arthritis.

On the other hand, there is a number of foods which are considered to be anti-inflammatory, and they include:

  • fresh fruits and vegetables
  • unsaturated oils (including olive oil)
  • green leafy vegetables
  • fatty fish (such as sardines and mackerel)
  • whole grains.

3. Smoking

Nicotine found in cigarettes or tobacco products acts as a vasoconstrictor, meaning that it narrows blood vessels. Since articular cartilage in the body’s joints is avascular, meaning that it does not contain blood vessels, it receives oxygen and nutrients from the synovial fluid and surrounding bone. The narrowing of blood vessels in these tissues means less of critical nutrients and oxygen being delivered to the joint cartilage, which could lead to its degeneration and joint problems.

Research shows that cigarette smoking has been associated with chronic musculoskeletal conditions, such as low back pain and degenerative disc disease. According to the results of scientific studies, men with knee osteoarthritis who smoke sustain greater cartilage loss and have more severe knee pain than men who do not smoke.

4. Avoiding exercise

Aerobic exercise helps to deliver oxygen to tissues, including cartilage, and improve blood circulation. In addition, strength training exercise builds muscles, which protect the body’s joints. A sedentary lifestyle not only contributes to becoming overweight and developing chronic diseases (including heart disease, stroke and high cholesterol) but also puts your joint health at risk by increasing the probability of developing osteoarthritis.

Strength training has many benefits for the body, including strengthening of the bones and muscles, which reduce the strain placed on the ligaments and helps to preserve the health of joints. In addition, strength training stimulates the release of synovial fluid, which lubricates the joint and delivers oxygen and important nutrients to the cartilage.

Finally, regular exercise and strength training helps to maintain a healthy weight, which can go a long way in helping you keep your joints healthy through all stages of life.

4. Repetitive motions

Repetitive activities and motions can result in microscopic tears in joint tissues, resulting in painful conditions such as tendinitis or bursitis. Tendinitis refers to the inflammation of the tendon, which is the white fibrous tissue that connects bones to muscles and enables joint movement. Tendinitis often affects the shoulder, elbow or the biceps, and can be quite painful.

Bursitis is the inflammation of the bursae, which are thin, fluid-filled sacs located at the points of friction between the bone and surrounding soft tissues, such as skin, muscles, ligaments and tendons. Bursitis often occurs in the hip, elbow and knee.

In addition, repetitive motions and overusing the joints can result in osteoarthritis. Repetitive motions such as typing, working a cash register or doing assembly work can stress the joints and eventually cause cartilage breakdown.

Moreover, activities such as jumping, running, kneeling, lifting, bending or typing can also cause the wearing away of the cartilage which supports and cushions the joints of the hands, spine, hips and knees, causing greater friction between bones and development of painful joint conditions. Making modifications to the types of repetitive movements you make, as well as taking breaks, can help you preserve the health of your joints.

5. Ignoring joint pain

Joint pain is a symptom that should not be ignored, and avoiding a physical examination and neglecting joint discomfort and pain can result in permanent joint damage and even disability. You should see your doctor if you have joint pain or inflammation, or if your joints look swollen or warm to the touch. You should also consult your doctor if joint pain interferes with your daily activities, or if it comes and goes on a regular basis.