How Movement Impacts Joint Health

December 04, 2018

Joint Health Through Movement
Regular movement is so important for joint health.

This woman chooses to run for her overall health and joint nutrition!

JayDee Vykoukal, DPT

The human body requires mindful attention to lifestyle and habits, joint health is no different. The joints of the human body are amazing. Each one is uniquely shaped to provide the best combination of function and stability. There are 3 types of joints: fibrous, cartilaginous, and synovial. Since fibrous joints are immovable and cartilaginous joints have very limited movement, this article will be focusing on the physiology and health of synovial joints. The health of these joints is all about the right kind of movement and exercise. In a society where less time is spent in motion and causing an epidemic health decline, finding time to move is important for so many reasons! There are so many known benefits to exercise, but here's what you might not know about its pertinence to your joint health:

Joint anatomy basics.

What typically comes to mind when we think of a joint is what is called a synovial joint. These very movable joints (although the degree depends on each specific joint) are made of a dense outer layer of connective tissue that "seals" in the cushioning cartilage and joint fluid. Together, all these components provide stability while allowing adequate movement for all your daily activities, hobbies and exercise. Synovial joints include the knees, ankles, hips, shoulders, fingers, toes, and part of the spine (there is one synovial and two cartilaginous joints for each vertebral connection).

How movement effects joint nutrition.

Synovial joints are what give us the ability to move freely and consistently. Due to the large degree of movement they are subject to they are also more susceptible to possible damage, making joint health so important. As most everyone has experienced, when a joint gets injured or is sore it can greatly impact daily life and getting around. Intuitively, it should make sense that regular exercise will be beneficial for joints to maintain an optimal balance of strength, endurance and flexibility. However, the 'behind the scenes' benefits of exercise for these joints are pretty awesome too. With exercise, the physics of the movement (gravity, compression, muscle pull) are keeping your joints well lubricated. Comparatively, the synovial fluid found in a joint is like the oil you would add to a squeaky bike chain. In both cases, lubrication is crucial for keeping everything moving smoothly. In a closed joint system, this fluid brings good nutrition to the joint cartilage (a tissue that gets little to no blood flow) and connective tissue to keep the joints of your body working at their peak ability.

So why does it matter?

With osteoarthritis (OA) impacting a large percentage of the population, joint health through adequate nutrition is KEY for maintaining a good quality of life. Each year OA's effects are reaching a younger and younger populations due to unhealthy lifestyle choices. Too much sitting and inactivity are major factors in this growing problem. Although some cartilage wear with age and use is normal, OA is caused by disproportionate and excessive wearing of joint cartilage. It can be prevented by routine maintenance (aka exercise!). The most unfortunate part of OA is that since cartilage gets little (to none) blood supply, it is nearly impossible to heal once it is too damaged. The good news is there are plenty of ways to prevent future, or further, damage and to adapt and manage any damage that may have already been done. Ultimately, if you are reading this and don't have OA you are ahead of the game and can implement the best form of treatment for joint health: prevention!

What you can do for your joint health right now.

Get moving! It doesn't have to be complicated and there is really no good excuse for not taking care of your body, especially now that you know about the importance of joint health. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Go for a walk on your lunch break. Hit the gym before or after work. Spend some time at a standing desk, on a stationary bike or treadmill, or do simple exercises at work (interlink- see comments below). Mix it up to keep your body well engaged and prevent stagnancy. All that movement is keeping that synovial fluid moving to flush the "good stuff in and bad stuff out" to optimize joint health now and for the future.

Get up and go for it.

Ever wonder why you feel better after a little exercise even when your joints feel stiff and sore? All the mechanisms just discussed play a large role in that. So, remember exercise is recommended by the CDC at least 3 times per week for 30 minutes intervals at a moderate intensity. This is the bare minimum. However, with the right mindset you can do so much more. The benefits of exercise are endless, so find a way to stick to it. Set goals, invest in a home gym, sign up for an exercise program, optimize your office equipment with a standing desk, or whatever you know will keep you accountable. From there, keep up with it and reap the benefits!

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