Marta Montenegro: Banish Achy Joints

Most Americans unfortunately don’t meet the daily physical exertion quota to maintain a healthy body or to prevent gaining weight. Even worse, some may develop achy knees and backs that won’t allow you to jump, walk, run or move freely when you want.

“Osteoarthritis (OA) is extremely common. In fact, it is the number one leading cause of disability in adults in the USA,” says Nicholas DiNubile, Clinical Assistant Professor at University of Pennsylvania and bestselling author of the book "FrameWork."

A Strength and Flexibility Workout

DiNubile explains that in healthy joints there is a thick smooth cushion on both sides of every joint. But with OA the cushion deteriorates, causing the surfaces to rub against each other.

Maybe you're a fitness pro that runs, lift weights and bikes over the weekends. Perhaps you're someone who spends over eight hours in front of a computer. Either way, you may think that those knees, hip or back pains are part of the aging process. Well, sometimes they are -- but also be aware that OA may be knocking at your door.

Too much or too little: risks increase

DiNubile points out that some of the many causes of OA are prior injuries, obesity, abnormal joint alignment, muscle weakness and genetics.

Indeed, Keith Hechtman, founding partner of UHZ Sports Medicine Institute and board certified orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine, says that some of the most common anterior knee pains are runner’s knee and jumper’s knee, which lead to muscle weakness and poor flexibility.

“Movement helps nourish and lubricate the joint cushion. Most exercise and fitness programs will not cause arthritis. However, if you already have arthritis in certain joints (i.e. knees or hips), then higher impact sports and activities, like running, can make the arthritis worse, and accelerate the wear process. I am not saying that running causes arthritis, it doesn’t. But if you already have arthritis, it can indeed make it worse,” states DiNubile.

Likewise, being overweight is a risk factor due to the increase wear of the joint cartilage. In fact, DiNubile says that “for every extra pound you carry on your frame, your knee thinks it is 5 to 7 pounds, or even more with certain activities. The good news is that for every pound you lose your knee thinks you lost 5 to 7.”

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Being active is not negotiable. To keep joints healthy you must work on every one in particular with the right exercises. If you already have OA is imperative that, with your physician’s clearance, you work hard to maintain strength, flexibility and range of motion. DiNubile warns that when you have OA, it’s common to feel a little discomfort when exercising, but exercise can have a tremendous positive outcome. However, you must learn to not cross the line and irritate the arthritic joint significantly.

Kitchen aids

Even though there’s no cure for arthritis yet, there are many things that you can do now to prevent the disease. DiNubile suggests that foods like pineapple, olive oil, green tea and foods rich in omega-3s will help to reduce inflammation.

As per supplements, DiNubile recommends Cosamin Asu – Nutramaz Labs, a daily joint supplement that includes glucosamine, Chondroitin Sulfate and ASU (Avocado Soy Unsaponifiables).

“In other cases, newer viscosupplement injectables, like Synvisc-One, provide cushioning, lubrication and relief for arthritic knee joints. This can help postpone or even prevent the need for joint replacement. There is even some research suggesting that viscosupplementation may even help prevent progression of the arthritis,” he says.

Joint friendly moves

Strengthening the lower body is imperative to keep the hips and the knees muscles and joints strong since these two areas are some of the most affected with OA. In "FrameWork," DiNubile shares some of his best tips and exercise modifications when working the lower body:

a) Leg extension: If you have patellar problems, do a limited arc within your pain free range. This means pinning the weight stack out so that you lift only in the last 15 to 20 degrees of extension. Be mindful of the seat adjustment. Too far forward or backward puts undo pressure on the kneecap. When using the stationary bike, set the seat higher, no hills, and use toe clips, or use the elliptical. Avoid stair steppers machines.

b) Squat/leg press: If you have patellar issues, use the leg press with light weight and higher reps (20-25) or try quarter squat where you drop down 25 percent instead of reaching 90-degree angle.

c) Cable hip adductors, abductors and hamstring kickbacks: all are suggested exercises to strengthen the inner and outer thigh muscles and the gluteus, which are good for knee and hip overall strength.

d) Healthy unbalance: Include some exercises that work on your propioception (sense of space) by adding some unstable exercises in wobble board or bosu ball such as standing in place, squats, quarter lunge, if allowed, among others.

Exercise is one of the healthiest “drugs” that you can take to prevent and to mitigate the curse of so many health conditions -- including ones like OA, than begin silently, but can become very painful.

Marta Montenegro is an exercise physiologist, certified strength and conditioning coach and master trainer, who teaches as an adjunct professor at Florida International University. Marta has developed her own system of exercises used by professional athletes. Her personal website,, 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.

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