Understand Bone and Joint Health

Vaness Monteiro headshot

by Vanessa Monteiro

You can feel it in your bones; winter is definitely coming! In the colder months, you may find your joints feel stiff and achy and that may encourage you to coop up indoors for warmth. However, by learning about the way the joints in your body function, you can improve your bone and joint health and avoid being a lazy-bones all winter long!

man wearing blue sweater and gray pants sitting and stretching legs

Body weight workouts such as squats and lunges can be very beneficial to the joints in your knees, hips and lower back.

What is Bone and Joint Health?

A joint is a connection point between two or more bones (1). Bones, as a joint’s foundation, are composed of three main components: collagen that builds the soft frameworks for your bones, calcium phosphate that strengthens the framework, and bone cells (osteoblasts & osteoclasts) that work to replace weak portions within your bones.

The most common (and most mobile) type of joint in your body is synovial joints, where the movement of bones occurs within a joint cavity. Unlike the other bone joints, cartilaginous and fibrous, in a synovial joint, the bones are not stuck together by connective tissue or cartilage. This allows for greater range of motion in a synovial joint, such as with your knee so you can kick a ball. The free movement in these joints is improved by the lubricating synovial fluid within the joint cavity and the articular cartilage that covers the surface of the bones to reduce friction.

In support of this free movement are ligaments, a type of connective tissue. They improve the strength of your joints by holding the bones together while restricting motions that are not natural for the joint. For heavy-lifting joints such as your shoulder, muscles, and tendons (connective tissue for muscle attachment) that run across the joint play a vital role in improving the strength of the joint. With so many working parts needed to keep your body moving, it’s important to take good care of your joints!

woman's collar bone up close

Regular flexibility exercises, such as yoga or stretching routines can improve your range of motion over time and are very important if you already have joint issues (such as a previous injury).

Supporting Your Joints

The joints in your body are complex pieces of engineering, and when you remember to be mindful of their needs, they work like a well-oiled machine, carrying out jobs easily and without causing pain or distress.

Improving Mobility

Flexibility (2) is the ability of a joint (or series of joints) to move through an unrestricted, pain-free range of motion. By maintaining your flexibility, you can aid your overall bone and joint health. Regular flexibility exercises, such as yoga or stretching routines, can improve your range of motion over time and are very important if you already have joint issues (3) (such as a previous injury).

Another way to aid the mobility of your joints is to support the production of the synovial fluid in your joint cavity. One of the most lubricating components of synovial fluid is hyaluronic acid, which provides the fluid with its shock-absorbing properties. As a supplement, hyaluronic acid has been shown to improve joint health with a daily dose of 200mg (4) taken over several months.

Working to your Advantage

Your joints do a lot of heavy lifting throughout the day, whether it’s actually lifting an object or just getting you up the stairs. Limiting the amount your joints need to do (5) can help reduce the stress they are under.

  • Try to cut down on unnecessary bending, stooping, or reaching. You can invest in a stool or ladder (6) to assist in reaching hard-to-get items or organize items in your house that you use most frequently at the appropriate height for lifting.
  • Household cleaning and chores often include repetitive actions that can increase joint strain. Take advantage of new technologies to reduce your chore time such as a robot vacuum cleaner (7), iron-free clothing, or cleaning agents that cut down on scrubbing.
  • Set up your workspace (8) to support your joints. If you use a desk, make sure your chair is set up so that your arms sit at a 90° angle to your desk, and your legs are at 90° (or more) to the floor, with your feet flat on the ground.
man typing on laptop in office setting

If you use a desk, make sure your chair is set up so that your arms sit at a 90° angle to your desk, and your legs are at 90° (or more) to the floor, with your feet flat on the ground.

Strengthening Your Joints

While you can do your best to improve the working conditions for your joints, sometimes they are required for difficult tasks. Since you need to rely on your joints in these situations, it is a good idea to work towards strengthening your joints overall.

Exercising for Stability

Keeping active is a great way to improve bone and joint health. Strengthening exercises (9) help to build up the muscles surrounding your joint and provide increased stability. Body weight workouts such as squats and lunges (10) can be very beneficial to the joints in your knees, hips and lower back (11). To improve the joint health in your upper body, such as your shoulders and elbows, weight-lighting exercises are your go-to. If you are starting out, or on days when you are feeling a bit achier, you can try swimming as a low impact exercise option.

Getting the Right Nutrients

Just as building up muscle strengthens joints, maintaining your bone density improves joint health too. Bone density is maintained throughout our life as the body constantly works to remove and replace weakened sections of bone. Calcium and Vitamin D (12) are two key components that help with this process and it is best to bring in these nutrients through your diet. (13) Many foods these days are fortified with calcium but if you are unsure, dairy products (including milk, yogurt, and cheese) are great natural sources. Similarly, Vitamin D is fortified in food products, but if you are looking for natural sources, fish and eggs (yolk) are known to have high levels of Vitamin D.

Another important part of synovial joints that can get damaged from injury or general wear and tear is the articular cartilage. Supplementing with chondroprotective agents (14), such as glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, can help to kick-start the cartilage regeneration processes. Additionally, fish oil supplements with omega-3 can help with cartilage regeneration (and synovial fluid creation!). Outside of supplementation, foods good for joint health include fatty fish, walnuts, and flaxseed products that are great sources of omegas.

There are over 300 joints in your body that are responsible for a multitude of actions – actions you may often take for granted. So, don’t be a bone-head and take some smalls steps to improve your bone and joint health this winter and for the future!

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