What puts the most pressure on our joints and how can we avoid this?
Weight bearing and repetitive actions put the most stress on your joints. Jumping down from the cab of a lorry, for example, would subject your knee joints to impact forces as high as 12 times your body weight! Your weight bearing joints, such as the knees, survive these pressures due to the resilience of cartilage which can spring back into shape, and the cushioning effect of joint synovial fluid.
What is the best way to maintain joint health?
Gentle, regular exercise helps to maintain joint mobility. As well as strengthening muscles it boosts the flow of oxygen and nutrients to joint tissues – especially vital for cartilage which does not have a blood supply and must obtain its nutrients by diffusion. Exercise also helps to maintain the layer of lubricating synovial fluid over the articular surface. Obtaining sufficient building blocks to make new joint tissues is also key. The rate limiting step for production of new joint tissues is usually the slow production of glucosamine, so supplements that supply these are widely recommended. Glucosamine usually works especially well when combined with other nutrients needed for joint health or which have anti-inflammatory properties such as chondroitin, hydrolysed collagen, vitamins C and E, and ginger root extract. These are available as tablets, or can be taken in a liquid formulation such as LQ Joint Care.
Should we be maintaining joint health from a young age?
Just about everyone should take steps to look after their joints, especially if you are aged 40 or over, if you are overweight, or if osteoarthritis runs in your family. Those whose work or recreational activities involve repetitive movements, or which can lead to injury, should also take care. Athletes, for example, are very aware of their joints, and look after them, as both their performance and career depend on them.
Before joint pain becomes an issue, you may notice a creakiness in one or more joints, or feel the need to stretch your back every day. A joint may become less flexible than before, or can no longer be straightened fully. You may notice that your joints are swelling or changing shape, or that your hands and feet easily get cold and stiff. A joint may also start to ache, especially after exercise, and it may be uncomfortable to kneel. Once you start noticing these signs, it is vital to protect your joints and long term mobility.
As we get older, the cartilage, synovial fluid and bones that form our mobile joints start to show characteristic signs of wear and tear. This is particularly noticeable in articular cartilage, which is a unique tissue from the perspective of ageing. Cartilage has a very low turn-over, meaning that, unlike most other tissues, it is not continually broken down and replacedi. It therefore has to withstand years of use and abuse, although limited repair of age-related damage can occur.
Articular cartilage becomes increasingly soft and develops characteristic vertical cracks on its surface. This process, which is similar to a material fraying. is known as fibrillation. It occurs when the sugar-protein molecules (proteoglycans) within the cartilage matrix become smaller and more irregular, and collagen proteins show increased amounts of cross-linking. At the same time, the amount of water present within the articular cartilage decreases. In effect, the cartilage starts to dry out. Together, these changes make the cartilage weaker and less flexible.
Synovial fluid also becomes thinner and less cushioning with age as the amount of chondroitin sulphate and hyaluronic acid it contains starts to fall.. The level of chondroitin sulphate in your synovial fluid is highest between the ages of 20 and 30 years, for example, then progressively falls until it has approximately halved by the age of 70-80. As the level of these substances fall, less fluid is attracted into the joint and the total amount of synovial fluid reduces.
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