7 Ways To Protect Your Joints
Regardless of which stage of arthritis you have, you may be wondering if there’s anything you can do to protect your joints from further damage. Arthritis pain can be unpredictable and difficult to manage, but there are multiple ways to make things more manageable so you can thrive on good days and have the necessary precautions in place so you can make things easier on harder days. This way of working with your body and making adjustments where necessary to protect your joints is called joint protection.
What is joint protection?
Caring for and protecting your joints doesn’t mean spending your days lying in bed wrapped in cotton wool and avoiding any kind of strain. Instead, it means making small changes to reduce pain and strain in your joints. This can include using adaptations like tools, evenly distributing your weight and being mindful of how you feel during certain tasks. It can also mean asking for help, pacing yourself and so on. We’ve listed 7 tips for protecting your joints below but this is not an exhaustive list. Speak to your doctor or physical therapist for more tips on joint protection.
1. Listen to your body
Not every day is the same, and that’s especially true when you have arthritis. It can be hard to explain to people who don’t live with a chronic pain condition what it’s like to not know how you’re going to feel one day to the next, and that just because something was fine for you yesterday doesn’t mean it’s not too painful today.
It can be really frustrating to feel those limits holding you back from the things you want to do. It is really important to accept where you are at the time, and listen to your body. If something feels wrong, don’t push it. If you need to adjust your workout, take a break, sit down, or ask for help, remember that by listening to your body and not overworking yourself you’re making it easier to bounce back, rather than pushing through the pain and creating more in the long run.
Sharp pain isn’t something you need to push through, so whilst avoiding movement isn’t a good idea in the long run, it can be helpful to make sure you’re using your body in the optimal way (look online for videos or pictures to help you with the correct posture for different activities like lifting or exercise). There’s nothing wrong with sitting or laying down for a while or soaking in a hot bath to ease the pain.
2. Manage your weight
Your joints work hard to keep you moving, and extra weight puts more pressure on them. This doesn’t mean you have to go on fad diets or cut out all your favourite foods. One study found that losing one pound results in four pounds of pressure being removed from the knee, whilst other research shows that cutting just 11 pounds may improve your joint health and cut your risk of osteoarthritis of the knee by 50%.
Reducing fat can also decrease inflammation, as fat cells release pro-inflammatory chemicals. Yet another study found that overweight or obese people who lost weight over four years showed significantly less cartilage deterioration than those who did not lose weight. Focusing on nutrition, eating wholegrains to keep yourself fuller for longer, and incorporating more exercise into your life can help you maintain a healthy weight in the long term, and feel better in the process! Speak to your doctor if you’re interested in a weight loss plan and for further resources.
3. Don’t avoid exercise - but don’t overdo it!
Whilst exercising may be the last thing you want to do when you’re in pain, maintaining a manageable exercise routine is critical for managing the symptoms of arthritis. Stronger muscles can better support the joints, better fitness increases mobility and exercise improves circulation, sleep, mood and so many other things that are important for a healthy lifestyle. This doesn’t mean you have to push your limits on the treadmill however - exercise is anything which gets you moving. This can include swimming, yoga, dance, cycling, walking, gardening, or even cleaning the house.
If you’re new to regular exercise or are interested in trying something new, consider going to a class and speaking to the instructor so they can help you adapt where necessary. It’s also important to remember that no two days are the same, and whilst you shouldn’t avoid exercise altogether when you’re in pain you don’t want to be completely sedentary either. Listen to your body, ease off where necessary and alternate between activities if you feel something else is a better fit for you today. If you are not used to exercising or have taken a break from exercising please consult your doctor or a trained specialist for expert advice on how best to suit your exercise needs.
4. Get your nutrients
Eating a healthy, balanced diet full of the daily nutrients you need to maintain your overall health is really important. Omega 3 fatty acids (found in walnuts, edamame beans and fatty fish) is known for its anti-inflammatory properties, which can help manage the pain of arthritis.
Calcium is another important addition to your diet when you’re trying to protect your joints, as it’s good for healthy bones as well as muscle control and blood circulation. Whilst calcium is typically found in milk products, it also can be found in spinach, kale, fortified cereals and enriched plant based milk.
Polyphenols are antioxidants which may be able to reduce inflammation around the joint and slow the breakdown of cartilage, as well as increase bone strength. You can get polyphenols in teas like green, black, white and especially matcha. If you’re struggling to get enough nutrients from food, consider speaking to your doctor about supplements.
5. Mix it up
Putting pressure on the same joints all the time can lead to joint pain and damage down the line, so it’s important to make sure you’re moving in a way which evenly distributes weight across your joints. If you’re lifting something, for example, try using the stronger, larger muscles in your arms to take excess pressure off the smaller joints in your hands. Consider using the palms of your hands or carrying things on your arms rather than gripping them with your hands. When lifting objects, try to hold them closer to your body which is less stressful for the joints. Where possible, try to slide objects or invest in a trolley or wheelbarrow to make moving things around easier. If you’re struggling to carry shopping, remember that you can order online and get your groceries delivered to your door.
If you’re used to doing things in a particular motion, consider mixing up the range of movement so you’re using different muscles and spreading the strain evenly. If one joint is painful, give it a rest and adjust your movements so you’re using a different set of muscles. If you’re sitting for long periods of time, try to stand up at regular intervals and move around the room, even if it’s just for a minute or too. Repeated strain on specific areas of your body can lead to joint damage, but mixing it up so that more of your body can shoulder the work can make a big difference.
6. Don’t be afraid to say no
Do you feel guilty saying no to people? If so, you’re not alone. Many of us grew up being told to just ‘get on with it’ and to do things which make us uncomfortable because refusing would be rude. In reality, it’s your life, it’s your time and it’s up to you to choose what you do with it. When you have an invisible health condition like arthritis, people who don’t have that experience may find it hard to understand why some days are harder than others and it can be frustrating trying to explain your reality to someone who doesn’t get it.
At the end of the day, if something doesn’t feel right - particularly if you’re concerned it might lead to more pain for you in the long run - it’s absolutely okay to say no and prioritise your self care. If you’re exhausted, it’s okay to say no to plans and rest at home. If you’re in pain, it’s okay to let people know that and ask for support. Prioritising yourself when you need to ultimately frees up space so that you can be there for others more authentically - which is better for everyone in the long run!
7. A little help can go a long way
We live in a wonderful world of robotic vacuums, electric tin openers and various adjustable tools which can make everyday tasks easier, so that you can focus your energy on the things you want to be doing! This can be applied to every area of your life, from your clothes to your cooking. Zipper pulls and buttoning aids can be a great way to take pressure off your fingers when dressing in the morning. Raised toilet seats and handrails for the bath can help you navigate the bathroom more easily.
In the kitchen, using a food processor, a slow cooker, long handed utensils with extra grip, and jar openers can make your life easier. When it comes to cleaning, robotic vacuum cleaners can be remote controlled to clean up your house without all the bending and pushing that you’d normally need to do. Long handled dust pans and brushes are another alternative to save your back unnecessary strain when cleaning the house. You don’t have to do it all yourself - little things can make a big difference when it comes to protecting your joints.
Do you have ways of protecting and looking after your joints? Let us know what they are on Facebook.