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Stretching exercises that improve your range of motion, quitting smoking, a healthy diet, and weight and strength training can help people prevent arthritis-related joint pain later in life, says Dr. Kaushal Malhan, director-orthopaedics and joint replacement, Fortis Hospital, Mulund.
An inflammation of the joint, arthritis can affect one or multiple joints and cause pain. Although common in people over 65, it can impact younger people, including teens. According to the Arthritis Foundation, degenerative joint disease disorders such as osteoarthritis will impact at least 130 million people around the world by 2050. It also says that women over 60 are almost twice as likely to be impacted by osteoarthritis compared to men.
Dr. Malhan spoke to Femoai about preventing joint pain later in life and keeping your joints healthy. Edited excerpts:
Are there ways to prevent joint pain as we age? How important are diet and exercise?
In a simple manner, it is all about maintaining the cushion between the joints, the cartilage. A large part of this cartilage is made up of a protein called collagen. If you maintain that cartilage well, with a good, nutritious, healthy diet, and an adequate amount of protein in your food, it will certainly help.
But a lot also depends on the quality of tissues you have genetically. However, this is a non-modifiable factor. But there are changes that you can make in your lifestyle which help. The first is eating a healthy and nutritious diet. Foods such as fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and tuna, leafy greens, nuts, garlic and onions are some of the foods that are good for the joints.
Second, we know that smoking is bad for the cartilage because it has nicotine which causes vasoconstriction or a tightening of the blood vessels. This inhibits the supply of nutrients to the body and will eventually lead to problems. This has also been shown to affect bone healing.
Symmetric loading of joints
Another thing that can lessen the speed of wear and tear, and reduce the affliction of joints is stretching exercises. A large part of the wear and tear is because of the inappropriate loading on the joints. Our joints like symmetric loading.
Whenever you put load on a joint, it should be well aligned. For example, if you drive a car, you want distribute the load on all tyres, and not on just one set of tires leaving the others totally free.
So, what are the things which will affect symmetry of load? Firstly, if you are involved in intense physical activities, you should wear appropriate gear, which support the joints. Second, if you are sitting for long hours, you may only be stretching just one set of muscles while others are becoming tighter. That inherently is going to lead to some degree of discrepancy in the kind of stress that will occur in the joint. This may impact our joints in the long term. This is also connected to leading a sedentary lifestyle, where we are stretching our body very little. If you want to do something to protect your joints, the least you can do is to exercise regularly, regular stretching exercises aimed at all joints, have a healthy diet, avoid smoking, secondary smoking is as bad as primary smoking.
Protect yourself from injury
It is important to protect your joints from unnecessary injuries. This doesn’t just mean somebody hitting at your joint but it could be doing things inappropriately. If you’re playing a particular sport or an activity, wear the right shoes, the right gear, which is meant to support the joints. You should also do engage in stretching exercises and warm ups before any kind of workouts.
Maintaining a healthy weight also reduces the risk of arthritis, especially osteoarthritis. Losing weight especially for overweight people can ease symptoms too.
Could you also recommend the right kind of exercises and foods that can help people protect their joints?
The first exercise that comes to people’s mind is walking, but exercise is of various types, and each type has a different role. Walking, running or skipping are good for your cardio respiratory system, the heart and lungs, but they may not do much for your joints other than stimulation. Although there is some data that walking and running actually stimulates the cartilage, but an excess of it may not be good.
Also, the same type of exercises don’t work for everyone. People who already have some degeneration in the joint, walking or running may not be good for them. It varies between different individuals.
The second type of exercises are muscle strengthening exercises like weights. These are isokinetic, isotonic, isometric, and these are the kinds of exercises which strengthen the muscles. These have an important role to play because if the muscle is strong, the joint is supported well. If the joint is unstable, it will wear away faster.
The third and the most important group is stretching exercises. Now what kind of stretching exercises do people need? For the knee, you should try to stretch your calf and hamstring muscles. You can also try to touch your toes while sitting on the ground or on your bed. If you’re not in intense pain, and don’t have arthritis, these kinds of exercises will actually help you a lot. Stretching the iliotibial band, that is the outer facia of the thigh, there are very simple exercises, which one can do and they will help in the long term. You can consult a physiotherapist or another professional to help you make an exercise plan that suits your needs the best.
Dr. Kaushal Malhan
Director, Orthopaedics and Joint Replacement
Fortis Hospital, Mulund
Dr. Kaushal Malhan is the Director Orthopaedic Surgeon at Fortis Hospital Mulund. He is a pioneer in the field of minimally invasive knee and hip surgery and has established the Regional Joint Replacement Centre for Western India, at Fortis Hospital Mulund.
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