Dr. John Daniels works with a staff member at Crystal Lake Orthopedics.

5 Ways to Stay Limber and Care for Your Joints

Joint health is essential to living an active life. Check out these five doctor-recommended tips for how to avoid any long-term joint pain and damage.

Dr. John Daniels works with a staff member at Crystal Lake Orthopedics.
Dr. John Daniels works with a staff member at Crystal Lake Orthopedics.

The 206 bones in each of our bodies are connected by more than 200 joints, a fact that most of us take for granted – until something starts to hurt.

“About 50 million Americans suffer from some kind of joint pain,” says Dr. John Daniels, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon with Crystal Lake Orthopedics, with locations in Crystal Lake and Huntley. “All joints have similar structures, whether fingers or hips, and whether large or small. They all are susceptible to damage.”

We’re accustomed to following health regimens for heart, skin and hair. What about our joints?

“Unfortunately, ‘joint health’ isn’t something one can achieve,” Daniels says. “Too many factors that impact our joints are out of our control.” He points to four primary joint problems, in descending order: osteoarthritis, resulting from wear-and-tear as we age; rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease; traumatic joint injury, especially injuries experienced in youth that become a problem later in life; and inherited developmental issues such as dysplasia.

“Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories and pain relievers, like Aleve, Advil and Tylenol, are helpful, but over time, they can cause high blood pressure, stomach upset and other issues,” Daniels says. “While it hasn’t been proven that supplements such as glucosamine, Osteo Bi-Flex and chondroitin restore joints, in some patients they do seem to offer some measure of symptom relief.”

If more conservative measures fail, then joint replacement may be the next treatment to consider. “I’ve performed many replacements, and 95 percent are successful in restoring function,” says Daniels. “If you’re unable to perform day-to-day tasks, if you can no longer do the things you enjoy, like gardening or sports, it’s a way to restore quality of life.”

Daniels offers five tips for diminishing the risk of joint problems.

1. Work on bone health early
Bone health in general is always good. In addition to a diet that includes calcium-rich foods, supplements of calcium and vitamin D are helpful. “A healthy skeleton equals healthy joints,” Daniels says. “Begin building bone density early on.”

2. Control weight and increase activity
Excess weight puts excess stress on your joints. Staying active can help to control weight, and also build muscle and joint strength. “Movements like walking up and down stairs put up to five times our body weight on our joints,” Daniels says.

3. Address problems immediately
Got a nagging catch in your hip when you climb out of the car? A pinch in your knee on your backswing? Go see your doctor! “Early diagnosis of an injury like a torn cartilage, or a genetic predisposition like dysplasia, allows us to begin treatment and helps to avoid the development of bigger problems later on,” Daniels says.

4. Perform more low-impact exercises
“Many activities put a good deal of stress on our joints,” says Daniels. Minimize pressure on your joints by performing low-impact exercises such as walking, riding an elliptical walker, swimming, bicycling, rowing, certain aerobics, yoga and Pilates.

5. Avoid trauma to joints
Start by wearing the proper protection and equipment. For example, someone who walks long distances should wear shoes designed for walking, with the correct heel, arch support and cushioning. “Certain occupations can cause stressed joints, but there are ways to minimize the shock,” Daniels says. “Someone who operates a jackhammer can wear anti-vibration gloves. Someone who lays carpet can wear special kneepads. All kinds of devices to protect joints are available, for all kinds of activities.”