Joint health is fundamental to movement and independence. When joints fall victim to injury or disease, the person becomes limited by pain and daily life suffers. The joint disease, arthritis, is estimated to have affected 54.4 million US adults per year between 2013 and 2015 (1).
Anyone can suffer from joint problems- from the most active individual to the most inactive. This is because joint health involves many factors including movement, the lack of movement, awkward positions, age, and history of trauma. To better appreciate joints, it helps to learn about their function and structure. This will assist better gauge individual risk for joint problems.
There are two types of moveable joint- cartilaginous joints and synovial joints. Of the two, synovial joints allow the most diverse movements. Cartilaginous joints move only slightly, these connect the vertebral column and rib cage.
When we think of joints, we usually think of synovial joints. Synovial joint examples include the knees, elbows, wrists, and hips. These joints are the most likely to be affected by injury or disease because we rely on them for countless movements.
The supporting structures of joints are important to discuss how these become damaged. For example, the difference between a strain and a sprain depends on the structure that was damaged- tendon or ligament respectively.
Tendons are the point of attachment between bone and muscle. These are often in close proximity to joints and play a role in supporting the structure. Tendons allow for the movement of bone when the muscle contracts (shortens) by pulling on the bone.
Ligaments attach bones to other bones. These are critical to a joint, they provide stability and help determine its range of motion. Ligament injuries greatly affect the biomechanics of a joint.
This cartilage covers the end of bones where they come together to form a joint. Articular cartilage helps protect bones and allows for a smooth gliding motion between bones during movement.
The synovium is a membrane that surrounds the entire joint and secretes synovial fluid. Synovial fluid fills the space between joints made by the capsule surrounding the joint and lubricates movement.
Joint Injuries and Disease
Joints are susceptible to both injury and disease. Physical labor, repetitive motions, sports, weak muscles, metabolic disorders, and inflammation can all contribute to joint problems.
Injured joint structures, like tendons and ligaments, have poor circulation and take a long time to heal. This is problematic because we rely on them for constant motion and don’t allow them to heal properly. Over time, mechanical damage can lead to unstable joints and friction between bones.
Disease can also lead to joint problems. Osteoarthritis, for example, is caused by inflammation of the joints due to wear-and-tear of articular cartilage. This leads to stiff, painful joints that limit movement and affect other joint structures- like tendons and ligaments. Other joint problems include gout, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia.
There is much we can do to keep healthy joints and lower our risk for injury and disease. Most of it involves practicing a healthy lifestyle- regular exercise, a healthy diet, and mindful care of injuries.
Exercise is important for healthy joints, but can also lead to injury. Not warming-up before stretching or a work-out make injuries more likely. Not cooling down after exercise can also be problematic.
Eating a well-balanced diet can help keep joint structures strong and healthy. Vitamin C, for example, is fundamental to make collagen and to the integrity of connective tissues.
Let joint injuries heal and don’t ignore the pain of its present. Take into account that joints have poor circulation and that further damage will only make things worse.
- “Arthritis-Related Statistics | Data and Statistics | Arthritis | CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/arthritis/data_statistics/arthritis-related-stats.htm.