Many things are built to last, but unfortunately, your bones and joints are not. As we age, we begin to lose the calcium in our bones, causing them to become more brittle. And over time, the cartilage between our joints slowly wears away, resulting in bones rubbing against bone, which can cause swelling and pain in our joints.
Dr. Cheryl Schwartz, DO, an internist at the Center for Holistic Medicine, says although aging is inevitable, there are some things we can do to protect our bones and joints as we get older to reduce pain.
“The best prevention would be to not do the things that cause pain or arthritis. However, when we are young and seemingly invincible, we do the things we enjoy — running track, playing sports, doing repetitive-motion jobs — and don’t worry about what will happen later,” she says. “In truth, we cannot live in bubble wrap, and we do require movement in our lives. So, it ends up that as we age, we discover new aches and pains from all those years ago and then have to deal with them. So, the best thing is to maintain ‘ideal’ weight, remain active, and treat the treatable.”
Maintaining Bone Health
Whether you are 30, 50 or 70 years old, taking steps to take care of your bones is important. Both men and women of all races can develop osteoporosis, which is a condition where bones become porous and brittle, causing you to have a stooped posture or bones that break easily. However, Caucasian and Asian women who are past menopause are more likely to develop the condition.
Here are the three most important things to do to keep your bones strong and healthy:
- Eat Enough Calcium
The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends that women under age 50 and men under age 70 should get 1,000 milligrams (mg) of calcium per day, and men and women older than that should get 1,200 mg of calcium a day. To do so, load up on dark, leafy greens like collard greens and kale, seafood such as shrimp and salmon, and dairy products like yogurt, cheese and milk (almond or soy milk works, too).
If you can’t get enough calcium in your diet, Tanya Tanzillo, DNP, a nurse practitioner and a functional medicine practitioner at the Center for Holistic Medicine, recommends taking a calcium supplement as well as a vitamin D supplement, which helps your body absorb calcium.
- Do weight-bearing exercise
“Doing weight-bearing exercise helps rebuild new bone, so walking, jogging or weight-lifting are great activities for bone health,” Tanzillo says. In addition, Dr. Schwartz often gives her older patients check out a PBS TV show called “Sit and Be Fit,” which has exercises you can do at home while sitting in a chair. “It’s not as easy as it looks!” Dr. Schwartz says. And, she says, even if you can’t do much weight-bearing exercise, any little bit of exercise can help.
- Get your hormone levels tested
Dr. Jerry Gore, MD, clinical director at the Center for Holistic Medicine, says one thing that may cause post-menopausal women to lose bone is an imbalance in their hormones. “If a woman is low on estrogen or testosterone, it’s difficult to maintain bone. And if her cortisol levels are too high — from stress or dietary problems — this can also break down bone. We do saliva testing to have an accurate method of seeing what these hormone levels are and then we can bring those levels back in balance using bio-identical hormones, supplements, herbs or dietary advice as needed,” he says.
Preventing Joint Pain
If you are middle-aged or older and wake up every day with new aches and pains in your body, you’re not alone. Unfortunately, feeling more joint pain is often a natural part of the aging process.
However, knowing what is causing your joint pain can help know how to treat it. The most common kind of joint pain is due to osteoarthritis, which occurs when the cartilage between the joints slowly wears away, causing bone to rub against bone, resulting in swelling, stiffness and pain.
However, sometimes, joint pain is due to rheumatoid arthritis, which is caused by an autoimmune condition where the body’s immune system starts attacking its own cells with inflammation that causes painful swelling of the joints. See a doctor for an evaluation if you start to notice persistent swelling around your joints (particularly in your fingers and toes), that is tender and warm to the touch.
Whether you have osteoporosis or rheumatoid arthritis, here are a few things that can reduce your joint pain:
- Stretch every day
Dr. Richard Bisceglie, a naprapathic practitioner at the Center for Holistic Medicine, says some simple, daily stretching is one of the best ways to get the fluid moving around your joints and can help increase flexibility and improve range of motion. The Arthritis Foundation warns, however, that you shouldn’t stretch cold muscles. Instead, try to move your body and do some light cardio work before doing any slow, static stretches.
- Strengthen your muscles
Another thing you can do to reduce joint pain is to strengthen the muscles surrounding the joint. “Strengthening the muscles around the painful joint helps to stabilize the joint and reduce pain,” Dr. Schwartz says. To fully stabilize the joint, Dr. Bisceglie recommends exercising both opposing muscle groups. For example, if you elbow hurts, you should work both your biceps and triceps. If your knee hurts, you should do exercises to build both your hamstrings and your quads.
- Do non-weight bearing exercise
When people feel joint paint, the most common response is to avoid doing any exercise, but in fact, moving your body can help you feel better. Tanzillo recommends doing non-weight bearing activities such as gentle water aerobics, swimming, biking, or even walking in a pool. If you are going to do something with more impact, Dr. Schwartz recommends running or walking on grass, cinder trails, or a padded indoor track, which have more give than a treadmill or cement.
- Get chiropractic adjustments
In addition to exercise, another good way to keep the joints moving is getting chiropractic adjustments, which can help stimulate synovial fluid to flow between the joints. “Synovial fluid is to the body what oil is to a car,” explains Dr. Mitchell Katz, a chiropractor at the Center for Holistic Medicine, who previously served as the official chiropractor for the Chicago Bears from 1991 through 2004. “Spinal decompression therapy for the lower back and neck can be very helpful as it is a passive movement, which helps to stimulate the synovial fluid and pump nutrients into the discs.”
- Maintain a healthy weight
“Being overweight will stress the joints and make any cause for joint pain worse,” says Dr. Schwartz. In fact, according to the Arthritis Foundation, being just 10 pounds overweight can put an added 15 to 20 pounds of pressure on your knees. That’s why Dr. Schwartz says it’s best to try to maintain as “normal” of a weight as possible.
- Eat an anti-inflammatory diet
Whether you are suffering from osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, keeping inflammation at bay is key to reducing pain. According to Harvard Medical School, you should avoid fried foods, refined carbohydrates, and processed meat. Tanzillo also suggests avoiding dairy, gluten, and refined sugar as well. Instead, opt for lots of fruits, leafy green vegetables, tomatoes, nuts, olive oil and fish, which are high in omega-3 fatty acids.
- Take supplements
There are many supplements that support joint health. Tanzillo suggests taking joint support blends, as well as turmeric and curcumin. Dr. Schwartz suggests taking glucosamine-chondroitin, boswellia serrata, or MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane) for people who have been diagnosed with osteoarthritis. And Dr. Katz says vitamins such as glucosamine sulfate and Active Again can promote flexibility.