When it comes to taking care of your bones and joints, you have a lot of control. The following are ways to keep your bones and joints healthy.
Exercise is a fantastic way to preserve your bone and joint health. Weight-bearing exercises-- such as using hand weights, doing body weight exercises like push-ups or squats, or even walking at an incline--can help keep your bones healthy by increasing your bone density. By making your bones stronger, you make them less vulnerable to breaking (also known as “fracturing”). You can also reduce your risk of developing osteoporosis, a condition of decreased bone density.
Exercise can also help protect your joints because when the muscles that surround your joints are stronger, there is reduced pressure, strain, and stress on the joints themselves. For example, by strengthening your quadriceps (the muscles on the front of your thigh) and hamstring muscles (the muscles on the back of your thigh), you can reduce the risk of injuring your knee joints.
If you have preexisting joint problems, such as chronic hip, knee, or back pain, non-weight-bearing exercises, such as swimming or other pool aerobics, can be very therapeutic.
Smoking can negatively affect your bone health. Smoking impacts the health of your musculoskeletal system by reducing the blood supply to your bones and affecting their ability to store calcium. Researchers have identified a link between smoking and decreased bone density, a condition that can make you prone to broken bones. Even if you do smoke cigarettes, you can still reverse the impact smoking has on your bone health by reducing the amount you smoke or pledging to quit entirely.
Smoking can also impact your joint health, as it can reduce the amount of cartilage surrounding your joints, making you more prone to conditions such as arthritis and chronic pain.
If you do have an orthopedic injury that requires a procedure or surgery, smoking can also increase the amount of time it takes for your wounds to heal.
Drinking alcohol to excess can affect the health of your bones and joints in several ways. First, excessive alcohol intake can interfere with your body’s ability to store and retrieve minerals from your bones. This can affect body systems that are seemingly unrelated to your bones, such as your cardiovascular system.
Drinking alcohol can also reduce your appetite for foods rich in calcium and vitamin D, which can lead to decreased bone density. If you are drinking alcohol to the point of inebriation, then you are also more prone to orthopedic injuries, such as strains, sprains, and fractures as intoxication can decrease the amount of attention you pay to your environment and make you unsteady on your feet.
Weight loss can be a very helpful tool in increasing the health of your joints. When you have increased body mass, your joints are forced to bear a heavier load than they are anatomically equipped to manage. This constant mechanical fight against gravity can wear down the cartilage in your joints and leave you prone to arthritis, injury, and pain. Research has shown that even a modest amount of weight loss can significantly improve joint pain from conditions such as knee osteoarthritis.
Use Medications Cautiously
Safeguarding the health of your bones and joints means being wary of using certain medications. Whenever you are contemplating a new medication, make sure to discuss its side effects with your medical provider. Common medications, such as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) for heartburn and steroid hormones for inflammation, have been associated with decreased bone density. If you do need to take one of these medications, ask your medical provider about things you can do to offset your risk of developing osteoporosis.
Eat Foods That Increase Bone Health
Eating a diet that is rich in calcium and vitamin D can help improve the health of your bones. These minerals work together to increase bone health; your body needs vitamin D present to absorb calcium.
Calcium and vitamin D are plentiful in a diet rich in a variety of vegetables, lean meats, and dairy products. Some of the best natural sources of calcium and vitamin D include milk, yogurt, cheese, spinach, kale, okra, soybeans, sardines, salmon, and tuna. You can also look for foods that have been “fortified” with calcium or vitamin D – this is the case with many breads and cereals.
If you are a vegetarian or a vegan, you may have a more difficult time reaching your recommended daily intake of calcium and vitamin D. Make sure to discuss your dietary habits with your medical provider. You may be advised to take a supplement for one or both of these minerals.
Using common sense when performing daily activities can save you from the many hardships associated with an orthopedic injury. In order to protect your bones and joints, make sure you take the following precautions:
- Wear a helmet when bicycling, scootering, or engaging in other similar activities.
- Wear protective gear when engaging in sports such as football, baseball, or hockey.
- Wear recommended restraints, such as seat belts, when in motorized vehicles.
- Don’t start an aggressive new exercise regimen without proper preparation. Instead, warm up, stretch, and ease your way into new physical activities.
- Wear sensible shoes.
Get Routine Screening
Talk to your medical provider about ways to monitor your bone and joint health. The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPFTF) recommends a DEXA bone density scan to assess osteoporosis risk in women who are postmenopausal. Their current recommendation is to screen all women at age 65. If you are found to have low bone density on a DEXA scan, you may be at risk of osteoporosis, and your medical provider may recommend a medication.
Your medical provider may also recommend assessing your vitamin D level, which can be accomplished with a simple blood test. If your blood test shows you are deficient in vitamin D, your medical provider may discuss measures you can take to increase your vitamin D level, including dietary changes, supplements, and sun exposure.