Let’s talk about joint health. Here’s a question for you: How many joints are in the human body?
If you went big by answering 360, you are right on. Incredible, huh! That’s a lot of joints! We use our joints in practically every moment of life. It’s a pretty good idea to take care of them as best as possible. Let’s dig into the topic of joints…
There are three structural classifications of joints (synovial, cartilaginous, fibrous), the most common being synovial. There are two characteristics of synovial joints that keep them working smoothly and pain-free.
The ends of bones are protected by hyaline cartilage, which gives the end of the bone a smooth, slippery surface. It is this covering that allows the ends of bones to glide across each other without friction. In some joints, additional cartilage (like the meniscus in the knee) provides more cushioning so the bones don’t rub against each other.
The space between two bones is surrounded by a capsule that provides support and protection. The joint capsule is lined by the synovium, which is a membrane that holds synovial fluid. This fluid keeps the ends of the bones lubricated, much like motor oil keeps the moving parts of a car engine lubricated. Oxygen and nutrients are delivered to most of the body via the blood. However, blood does not flow into joints. Synovial fluid delivers oxygen and nutrients to synovial joints, keeping them moist and healthy.
It is the combination of protective cartilage and the synovial fluid that allows joints to move without friction and pain free.
No doubt you’ve heard someone say, “Must be a storm comin’ cuz my arthritis is acting up again.” It seems joint discomfort is as much a part of our culture as the weather itself. Unfortunately, if we’re talking about joint health, we’re obligated to have a discussion about arthritis.
Arthritis (arthron = joint; itis = inflammation) has two basic forms, osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). These two diseases have completely different causes, yet they share similar symptoms: too much pain AND too little mobility. What’s the difference between the two?
Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the joint lining, causing an inflammatory response. No one knows why the immune system attacks the joints. It could be from a combination of environmental triggers, genetic factors, an infection, or even a virus, although no particular virus has been found that is clearly responsible. Every case of RA is different. It can be short-lived and then go into remission or it can last a life-time. Flare-ups could be frequent or happen only occasionally. Symptoms could be mild or severe.
Whereas the cause of RA lies with the immune system, osteoarthritis is a wear-n-tear condition and is a result of the breakdown of joint cartilage. Sometimes referred to as degenerative joint disease, OA usually is the result of years of the natural aging process and/or overuse of the joints from work or sports.
OA shows up when the hyaline cartilage that protects the ends of the bones wears out faster than it can be repaired. Joints don’t have a blood supply. So cartilage repair is slow. When the protective cartilage breaks down and wears away, the ends of the bone themselves rub together, creating friction, pain, and inflammation.
OA is a widespread problem, affecting one in five people in the U.S. Yet, just because a condition is prevalent doesn’t mean you can’t reduce its effect. Whether you want to ease painful joints or keep healthy joints feeling great, you can do something to bring vibrancy to your joints.
LET YOUR JOINTS DO THEIR JOB
Here’s an essential concept regarding joint longevity:
Your joints are NOT meant to support the weight of your body. That job is for your muscles.
Anything designed to move freely must have a solid support structure or movement will be compromised. Consider a wind turbine. Its structure holds the blades high into the air and provides a steady center for them to spin around. If the turbine’s support beams weaken, you’d hear all kinds of strange noises and the blades wouldn’t turn smoothly, if at all. The blades of a wind turbine have ONE JOB: to spin. They can only do their job if the base provides the needed foundation.
Like the blades of the wind turbine, your joints also must have steady support or else they won’t be able to do their job, which is to move freely. Your muscles combine with your skeletal structure to provide that support. Give your joints support in two ways:
When you maintain tall posture throughout your lifetime, you reduce the effects gravity has on your joints.
Resistance exercise increases muscle tone and bone density. When you maintain your strength, your muscles and bones bear the weight of your body rather than your joints.
By standing or sitting up straight and by doing maintaining strength with resistance exercises, you are giving your joints the support they need to remain as healthy as possible for your years ahead!