Summer’s here and that means it’s time for swimming, hiking, cycling and outdoor fun of all kinds. But with more physical activity in the great outdoors comes the risk of more stress on the joints. As many people who have experienced them know, joint injuries can keep you on the sidelines for the entire season.
Dr. Nicole Belkin, an orthopedic surgeon with NewYork-Presbyterian Hudson Valley Hospital and an Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery at Columbia University Irving Medical Center explains, “A joint is the connection between two bones, permitting body parts to move, and mainly formed of fibrous connective tissue and cartilage. There are different kinds of joints that allow for different kinds of movements: highly mobile ball-and-socket joints with six planes of motion, hinge joints that allow flexion and extension and numerous other specialized types of joints. Pain happens when joints become damaged or worn. Even something as little as the repetitive action of pulling weeds can cause unexpected joint stress.”
Tips for healthy joints this summer and beyond
- Warm up before, cool down after: This is one of the most important things you can do. Before jumping into physical activities, take the time to stretch and warm up your muscles and joints – especially if you haven’t been very active as of late. Remember to stretch afterwards as part of your cool down routine to help prevent joint injuries and muscle tears.
- Prepare for increased activity: To prevent overuse injuries, condition and strength train your body so it can become accustomed to increased levels of outdoor activity. Strength training enables better support of the joints. Even a little more strength makes a difference. A physical therapist or certified trainer can show you what moves to do and how to do them. Says Dr. Belkin, “If you have joint problems, avoid quick, repetitive movements. The best activities that don't pound your joints are walking, bicycling, swimming, and strength training. Be sure to ease your way into increasing levels of activity, in order for your muscles, joints and ligaments to become acclimated.”
- Be mindful of posture: Standing and sitting up straight protects your joints from your neck to your knees. Good posture also helps guard hip joints and back muscles. Posture is also important when lifting and carrying. Poor posture puts more stress on the joints. An easy way to improve posture is by walking. The faster you go, the harder your muscles work to keep you upright. Swimming can help with posture as well.
- Eat smart: A diet rich in calcium and vitamins D and C, and Omega-3 fatty acids plays a key role in bone and joint health, in addition to promoting muscle development and muscle strength. Dairy products are the best sources of calcium, but other options are green, leafy vegetables like broccoli and kale. Omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in salmon and mackerel, promote healthy joints and reduce joint pain and swelling.
- Safety first: Preparing your body with some padding is important when you perform activities like in-line skating or play contact sports. If your joints already ache, it might help to wear braces when you play tennis or golf.
- Drink up: Water not only keeps body temperature normal, it also keeps muscles and joints lubricated. When you sweat, your body is depleted of fluids, which can cause cramping. Although the right amount of water for your body depends on several factors, such as age and weight, the U.S. National Research Council recommends eight to ten 8-ounce glasses a day.
- Power up your core: Core muscles include the lower back and abdominals. It is particularly important to strengthen these muscles with exercises like crunches and leg raises. Enrollment in classes such as Pilates will also serve to reinforce one’s core. “Your orthopedist or physical therapist will be able to recommend exercises to help prevent hip, knee, and back injuries,” advises Dr. Belkin.
- Take frequent breaks during activity: This allows your mind and body to rest and restore, avoiding burnout and potential injury.
- Treat joint injuries: Left untreated, injuries can lead to a breakdown of cartilage in your joints. If you get hurt, see your doctor right away for treatment. Then take steps to avoid additional damage. Your physician may recommend that you forego activities that put too much stress on your joint, or use a brace to keep it stable.
Notes Dr. Belkin, “By taking some precautions and using common sense, you can help keep your bones and joints in fine form — giving you the ability to enjoy all the activities that the season has to offer.”