How To Move Without Pain

7 Habits that can Negatively Affect Joint Health

by Meghan Griech, PT, DPT, cert MDT, CKTP

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Joint pain can seem like it comes on at random, with no specific injury, but Joint pain doesn’t begin for no reason. The body doesn’t initiate inflammation without a cause, whether it’s a systemic illness such as lupus, or joint changes like a meniscus tear or muscle sprain. Truthfully, we just don’t pay attention to our bodies well enough (in my opinion). We cast off a stiff neck to sleeping in a bad position, or low back pain to picking something up awkwardly.

Although those may be true, often something has been changing within the joint, and this might have just been the final straw. Your joint exceeded its tolerance to tissue stress, and the inflammation cycle within the body was initiated.

Although we often think of this “final straw” is something mechanical, like twisting an ankle stepping off a curb or walking for a much longer period of time than we are used to, it could be from something else. It could be the way we treat ourselves as a whole; the way we eat, the shoes we wear, and how we deal with stress.  

Understanding your joints, muscles and the pains we get when we are active (or not active)is instrumental in knowing what your body needs when we are in pain. Knowing if our joints need to move and stretch, or rest and recover is an integral part in our joint health now and in the future.

7 Habits that can Negatively Affect Joint Health

1. Inconsistent sleep/Inconsistent Bedtime 

Many studies show that we need between 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night to give our bodies time to rest, repair, and heal. Yet why do we stay up to see another show pushing bedtime later, or fall asleep on the couch waking only to disrupt our sleep and finally walk to bed?  Research shows ​​keeping a regular sleep schedule maintains the timing of the body’s internal clock and can help you fall asleep and wake up more easily. If we would just put the show on pause and watch the rest tomorrow, we could give our body a consistent schedule it can expect and give ourselves a more restful sleep.

Start Today: Commit to a consistent bedtime and wake-up time. Even on weekends.


2. Too much time in one place

Joint stiffness can be a direct product of too much time in one position over and over again. Static joint positions (staying in the same place) mean the same areas of the joint have pressure on them over and over again and could lead to internal joint irritations. External to the joints, the muscles, ligaments, and tendons can also be affected by the prolonged joint position, with one side becoming stretched and the other side being tight. This can lead to an imbalance in the connective tissue’s flexibility around the joint, and possible changes in strength and movement. 

Start today: 

Set an alarm and move around every 30-45minutes, walk the halls, stand for a conversation, and move the joints in all directions to comfort.


3.  A physically inactive lifestyle

Sedentary habits can be detrimental to your joints in a couple of ways. For starters, it makes it hard to maintain a healthy weight, and extra pounds can be hard on your joints.  This is especially true for weight-bearing joints of the lower extremities like the hips, knees, and ankles. Knees are especially vulnerable since activities such as walking on stairs, walking down a hill, or sitting in a chair can cause at least a 3-fold increase in body weight pressure through the joint. Activity, on the other hand, increases the frequency of motion in the joints.  Because some joints produce synovial (lubricating) fluid during movement activity can lead to improved lubrication. 

Start today: 

Commit to taking a 30minute walk each day, break it up into 3 – 10minute walks if that is what you can handle, and increase your endurance. 

4. Ignoring the pain.

Tissue inflammation generally will heal on its own, but sometimes ignoring it may not be the best option, especially if it’s still present after you have given it some time to heal.  Pushing through the pain, thinking the old adage ‘no pain no gain’, could prolong the pain. Tendon, bursae, and ligament irritations should all heal in 2-4 weeks if given the proper environment and time to rest.  This means moving the joint(s) in a relatively pain-free range, reducing tissue stress during activities, and strengthening other areas of the joint that are weak. 

Start today: 

If a joint hurts, move it through its available motion to maintain the motion but not provoke or progress the pain.  Find ways to reduce the work on painful tissues, ie change the direction in which you are reaching if it is causing more pain (like turning your body to reach forward if reaching out to the side is painful)


5. Continuing  bad habits you know are bad for you (Smoking)

Smoking is bad for you, you know this, we all know this. The lungs are usually what we think of when it comes to the negative effects of smoking, yet smoking has significant negative effects on our joints too.  The nicotine in cigarettes narrows blood vessels, causing difficulty in blood flow and, as a result, restricts the amount of oxygen and critical nutrients that reach the joint cartilage. Our joints need healthy cartilage to maintain joint mobility, joint pressure balance, and health to the weight-bearing structures as we age.  Research has also shown that smoking increases bone mass loss (Osteopenia), by interrupting the regular bone regeneration process. Over time, this decrease in bone mass can lead to an increased risk of developing osteoporosis.

Start Today: Quit Smoking NOW!  Talk to your doctor about smoking cessation programs and support to make sure you can be successful.


6. Too much, too soon

This may sound confusing from the above information, yet doing too much activity without proper recovery can lead to joint pain. Any new or upgraded activity (think walking all day at an amusement park and then doing it again the next day) causes the muscles and the tendons that attach the muscles to the bones to be tired. This fatigue can lead to added joint stressors. This fatigue may be felt in the moment, or during a delay., Either way, persistent joint pain shouldn’t be ignored. Other symptoms, like tenderness, swelling, and warmth near the joint are signs the joint needs to rest. Allowing time for the tissues to rest and recover will help reduce the chances of fatigue turning into a sprain, leading to prolonged pain and feelings of debility. 

Start Today: If a future trip is in your plans that will require new activities or significantly more activity than you are used to, start ‘prepping’ for it now. Increase your daily time of walking and standing to prime the muscles and joints for improved tolerance of the news activity. 

7. Eat Pro-Inflammatory foods. 

What we eat can affect the levels of C-reactive protein (CRP)—a marker for inflammation—in your blood according to research. It is thought that some foods, like processed sugars, fried foods, and red meats, help release inflammatory messengers that can raise the risk of chronic inflammation.  Eating a diet full of fruits, and vegetables is a great place to start. Food rich in natural antioxidants can also help to reduce inflammation.  Cut the processed foods like sugary cereals and drinks, deep-fried food, and pastries, which are all pro-inflammatory offenders.

Start Today: Close the cabinet of processed foods and fill your fridge with a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables. Check this article out for a list of ideas.

*Disclaimer: All information in this article is intended for instruction and informational purposes. The author(s) are not responsible for any harm or injury that may result.  This information is used to supplement not replace any advice you were provided from your doctor or another medical health professional.  No guarantees of specific results are expressly made or implied with this article.

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