One day it’s the shoulder that bothers you. The other day it may be the ankle and two days later it’s the knee. Whether you are active or not, there are “normal “aches and pains that we have learned to deal with on a regular basis. But are you in constant pain? Do you want to avoid getting trapped with these nagging body pains? Well, no one can guarantee you a pain-free body, but certainly there are plenty of things that you can do to have healthy joints.
The idea of breaking down the cartilage of the joints and thus the cushion between the bones seems to go hand in hand with the beginning of the golden years. However, even though osteoarthritis manifests more when we get old, this is a condition that begins to develop in our young years.
“At the end of bones is hyaline cartilage. This is a very strong, smooth cartilage designed to take the forces associated with support and movement of joints,” says Mitchell Yass, a physical therapist with vast experience in the field of orthopedic physical therapy with emphasis in diagnosing and treating pain and dysfunction.
He explains that if the joints are not properly stabilized by the muscles that attach and pass the joints, the joint surfaces can rub excessively. Eventually the hyaline cartilage will be worn away and bone will rub on bone.
“This can cause traumatic bone growth into the joint or cause the bone to be eaten away,” he says. “This is a process that occurs over a long time. It is so slow in its progression that a pain signal is not ignited in most cases.”
Recognize the problems
1. Unbalanced Problem: Many factors can explain the reason of the wear and tear of the joints from congenital conditions, trauma, to obesity and recurrent injuries. Nevertheless, Yass says that when ”the muscles that support and pass joints are not strong and balanced to their opposing muscles (i.e. the quads and hamstrings), joints can become misaligned and the forces that pass through the joint must be absorbed by less than the complete joint surfaces that make of the joint. This increased force can eventually wear down the hyaline cartilage causing the arthritic process to begin.”
Your task: Super setting is one of the most favorable techniques to make sure that you get to work the agonist and antagonist muscles, thus keeping the muscle workload balanced. Perform each exercise back to back for each super set for the number or reps and sets indicated to then move to the following super set. (1-2 sets of 10-15 reps). For each of the standing exercises, remember to keep your back straight (never rounding it). Keep your core tight and chest up.
2. Weakness matters: The lack of muscle strength per se can make the joints more instable which lead to greater rubbing of the joint surfaces, thus increasing the wearing down of the cartilage. In this regard, Christine Prelaz, DPT, MS, OCS, CSCS, recommends for the shoulder issues to the strengthen the muscles of the shoulder blade (scapula) as well as strengthen the rotator cuff muscles. “Weakness here can contribute to problems in the neck, shoulder, elbow or writs/hand,” she says.
For the knees, hips, and ankles, Prelaz suggests core or trunk strengthening to create a strong base or foundation on which the lower extremity can function. Strengthening the hip muscles can also help the knee and ankle. Quadriceps strengthening is the primary muscle group to strengthen for knee health.
Your task: When working the shoulders, make sure to include one or two exercises that work some of the rotator cuff muscles such as cable external and internal rotation. To work the muscles of the shoulder blade beware to fully contract the scapula when doing dumbbells or the cable row as if you are squeezing your back muscles together. In neutral position (palms facing each other) bring your arms close to your body all the way back and hold the contraction for a couple of seconds and make sure you contract the scapulas.
As per the strengthening of the core, if you already master the planks on the floor and side planks, do a plank on a physioball and once you’re confident doing this perform the exercise “stir the pot,” where your forearms are resting on the physioball and you roll the ball around in a circular motion, right to left and then switch it directions.
3. The more active you are… If getting a strong-balanced frame is one of the best preventive measures you can take to avoid reaching osteoarthritis earlier than expected, Yass points out that “the more intense the activity or the longer the activity is performed, the more strength and balance of musculature is required to sustain the forces through the joint without irritating the joint surfaces.”
4. Your task: Regardless of the sports that you practice, include two to three sessions of weight training. The stronger you are the more stamina and power that you’ll have for your sports. And, don’t be afraid of apply periodization techniques your workout with some heavy lifting aiming for 8-10 reps.
5. Technique matters: While Prelaz says, “It’s one thing to do the exercises. It’s another thing to do them correctly. General exercises may be OK in some instances, but doing them incorrectly, inconsistently or with too much resistance too soon may lead to more problems.”
Your task: Invest in a couple of sessions with a certified fitness professional to review the exercise techniques and overall program. This is not an expense. It’s a health investment.
6. Pain free in a bottle? And, if looking at the supplement shelf is your way to go when the pain comes, you may be wasting your money. None of the experts agree on that there is enough evidence to back up the intake of glucosomine, chondroitin and more recently creatine to cope with the joint health.
Your task: “If I had to put my money somewhere, it would be in the Omega family – fish oil and/or those you could get through natural diet. They can give you much more bang for your buck as they have cardio-protective benefits and they can also help with the inflammatory mediators,” advises Prelaz.
Marta Montenegro is an exercise physiologist, certified strength and conditioning, coach and master trainer who is an adjunct professor at Florida International University. Marta has developed her own system of exercises used by professional athletes. Her personal website martamontenegro.com, combines fitness, nutrition and health tips, exercise routines, recipes and the latest news to help you change your life but not your lifestyle. She was the founder of nationally awarded SOBeFiT magazine and the fitness DVD series Montenegro Method.