How To Move Without Pain

Active Aging Tips to Keep your Joints Healthy

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

This article takes 10 minutes to read

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As we age many things change throughout our bodies. For example, our muscles may lose some flexibility and overall strength can decrease. But it’s more than just that, our memory and processing can be slower, causing us difficulty in finding the right words or effectively completing a sentence. Our cardiovascular system (heart, arteries and veins) can also be affected through stiffening of the blood vessels and arteries, causing the heart to need to pump harder. Our bones go through several changes too. Bone density may decrease, and the articular surfaces (connections between bones) may change in shape, lose mobility, or cause pain.

Learn why your joints hurt so you know what to do about it

The articular cartilage that cushions our joints can become thin. Although  this deterioration is a normal part of aging, it can cause inflammation.  For some, this inflammation will lead to pain that’s generally associated with different kinds of arthritis.  Protecting our joints and being proactive with our musculoskeletal health becomes more important as we age. 

We need to stop worrying about our joints only when they hurt and feel stiff, and start being proactive with our joint mobility, overall strength, and functional health.

Protecting your joints as early as possible can prevent unnecessary joint stress, injuries and enhance mobility as you age. 

Learn more about your joint health by discovering what inflames you and what makes you stronger

Follow these tips to get started


Listen to your body

There is a difference between muscle soreness and strain – knowing the difference is important to understanding what you are doing that is helping you stay strong and what is hurting you.

The old mantra ‘no pain, no gain’ is ok when you are trying to fatigue the muscles and strengthen, but when the pain lasts longer than after a workout and is closer to the joint rather than in the muscle belly you should pay attention.

Joint pain can be much more limiting and debilitating than typical delayed onset muscle soreness. Listening and understanding your body’s cues for when it needs a rest or change in position is key to strengthening versus harming. 

If your joints feel extra stiff one morning, take it easy, try general movements – like walking around, sit to stand, and gently stretch to help improve or maintain flexibility.  Try to avoid activities that make the paint worse.  If you have a joint or muscle that is very painful, you may need to change plans, use heat or ice, or consider medication to improve your symptoms. 

Take the free Joint Health Assessment to learn the potential impact of your current activity limitations

Do Regular Exercise

Completing regular exercise is a great way to maintain muscle strength, joint function and overall mobility. Regular activity helps prevent stiff, painful joints; and doing low-impact exercises keeps muscle strong, flexible, and conditioned for activity. Low impact exercises like walking, swimming, and biking are great options.

Muscle strength is required for proper joint mobility and endurance for activity. Strengthening muscles by lifting weights can improve functionality and provide better joint support. Regular exercise also helps to maintain muscle, joint, and connective tissue flexibility; therefore reducing joint stressors from tight tissues due to inactivity. 

Stay Hydrated

Water is essential for every part of our body to work effectively. Staying well-hydrated is essential to your overall health. Water helps lubricate joints, and is required for our skin, muscles, discs, and throughout our body for proper function! Water helps to regulate body temperature, helps stave off infection, helps kidneys eliminate toxins. 

For good joint health, you should replace the water your body loses through sweat, tears, or digestion. Water makes up 80% of the cartilage, therefore when your cartilage loses water, there is less synovial fluid in your joints. Without proper lubrication, joints stiffen, become hard or painful to move, and our muscles can feel weak. 

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Do a proper warm up and cool down with exercise

Stretching before and after a regular exercise routine helps prevent potential joint strain or muscle sprains. In a warm-up, slowly work the muscles you’re planning to use prepping them for the greater activity to come. For example,  take a 5 minute walk prior to your speed walk, or complete walking lunges before a run or bike ride.  You could also ride a distance on a flat surface before completing a hilly bike ride. The key is that you warm-up before any type of exercise.

Cooling down exercises and stretches are equally as important. End a challenging bike ride with a cool down lap, or after a run, do a walking lap or stretch your hips, hamstrings and calves. A muscle that just completed a hard workout can easily stiffen from the workload and fatigue, stretching afterwards is always a good idea. 

Quit bad habits: like smoking

Smoking has been well documented in its effects on our lungs, heart and overall health. Smoking also affects our bodies ability to heal, stay hydrated, and recover from activity.  Research has found that smokers are 1.5 times more likely to suffer overuse injuries, such as bursitis or tendonitis, than nonsmokers.

Smokers are also more likely to suffer traumatic injuries, such as sprains or fractures. Smoking is also associated with a higher risk of low back pain and rheumatoid arthritis. (https://orthoinfo.aaos.org)

If a fracture would occur, smoking causes our bodies to take longer to heal due to the harmful effects of nicotine on the production of bone-forming cells. And smokers have a higher rate or infection and wound healing after surgeries, in part due to the negative effects on blood flow.

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Avoid Overtaxing Joints Due to Extra Weight

Extra weight throughout our body, requires our muscles and joints to tolerate large amounts of joint stress. Biomechanically, every pound of extra weight puts an extra three to four pounds of pressure on each knee joint when walking; and this increases with some other activities such as climbing stairs. This can lead to pain, stiffness, and swelling in the joints and connective tissues, causing further limitations to our activity level. 

Overall, proactively protecting our joints can help prevent joint injury leading to pain, improve mobility, and enhance flexibility as you age.  Small changes to our lifestyles, activity levels and understanding of our bodies can improve our joint health today, tomorrow and as we age. 

Take the free Joint Health Assessment to learn the potential impact of your current activity limitations​

*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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