Exercise is an excellent way to tone up and lose weight. Plus, it builds muscle which supports your bones (which helps prevent osteoporosis) and improves your cardiovascular health. However, exercise can also be hard on the joints, often making them stiff or sore after a workout. If joint pain is severe enough, it can keep you from exercising, which negatively affects your health by keeping you from getting the benefits of physical activity. The best course of action is to keep your joints, muscles, ligaments and bones strong and stable. To help lessen and even prevent joint pain, we at Westchester Health recommend these 10 tips to follow before, during and after exercise.
10 ways to prevent joint pain
In cases other than arthritis, joint pain is most often caused by overuse or injury (for example, tennis elbow, pitcher’s elbow or weightlifter’s knee). We tell our patients to follow these guidelines for 2-3 months and see if they experience less joint pain. The goal is to enjoy exercise, not be in pain because of it.
Choose low impact exercise whenever possible
For many people, the best type of physical exercise involves activities that do not pound the joints, such as walking, bicycling, swimming, yoga or strength training.
Don’t stretch before exercise
Contrary to popular belief, it is not good for your muscles and joints to stretch when they are cold. Instead, we recommend stretching daily or at least three times a week, but not immediately prior to a workout. Before exercising, start with a light warm-up, such as walking for 10 minutes, to loosen up your joints, ligaments and tendons, then gradually build up the exertion.
Build muscle to support your joints
Strong muscles give your joints better support. This is especially important for people with weakened bones due to osteoporosis. Even a little more strength makes a difference. If you have joint problems, it is best to avoid quick, repetitive movements; slow and fluid is better.
Improve your flexibility
If your joints are stiff and not very flexible, it’s important to increase your range of motion. The more flexible you are, the better your balance and overall joint health, and the less likely you are to fall.
Keep your bones and muscles strong
For strong bones, it is vital to take in enough calcium and vitamin D every day. Dairy products are the best sources of calcium, but other good sources are green, leafy vegetables such as broccoli and kale. If you think you are not getting enough calcium from your diet, consider supplements. In addition, your muscles need protein. Exactly how much you need depends on your age, sex, and how active you are. Good sources include lean meats, seafood, beans, legumes, soy products and nuts.
Apply ice to painful or swollen joints
Ice is a natural pain reliever which also reduces swelling. For a sore joint, apply a cold pack or ice wrapped in a towel, leaving it on for up to 20 minutes at a time. You can also try a bag of frozen vegetables (green peas are best) wrapped in a towel. Never apply ice directly to your skin, as this could cause freeze burns or blistering.
Pay attention to your posture
To protect your joints from your neck down to your knees, always stand and sit up straight. When walking, making sure your shoulders are back and your spine is straight. If you work at a desk, take a break every hour to stretch and readjust your posture. Swimming is also a good way to help keep your posture aligned.
Develop a strong core
Strong abs and back muscles greatly improve your balance, making you less likely to fall or get injured. Concentrate on core strengthening exercises which work on your abdominal, back and hip muscles when you exercise. Pilates and yoga are great workouts for strengthening your core.
Maintain a healthy weight
The amount of weight your skeleton must carry around directly affects your hips, knees and back. If you are overweight, it’s important to slim down. Even a little weight loss can help your joints. Consider this: Every pound you lose takes 4 pounds of pressure off your knees.
Treat joint injuries right away
A joint injury (shoulder, knee, ankle, wrist, neck, back) can quickly cause the loss of cartilage in that joint, making the injury more serious. If you have injured a joint, come see us right away for evaluation, diagnosis and treatment. But just as important as getting your injury treated is taking steps to avoid more damage in the future (such as following these 10 tips). If your joint injury is serious enough, you may have to stop doing certain activities that put too much stress on that joint, or use a brace to stabilize it.
In some cases, joint pain might signal something more serious
If following these tips do not alleviate your joint pain, you may have a more serious condition such as Lyme disease, rheumatoid arthritis, bursitis, osteoporosis or tendonitis. If your symptoms persist or get worse, it’s important to see a physician right away so you can get a proper diagnosis.
If you are experiencing stiff or sore joints, come see us
If you are feeling pain in any of your joints, please call (914) 232-1919 to make an appointment with one of our Westchester Health specialists. The sooner we can evaluate and start treating the problem, the sooner you feel better and start enjoying exercising again. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.