Our joints come in many shapes and sizes and allow us to move and carry out normal activities of daily living. Without joints, we would be rigid and unable to move. While joints are crucial to living, they are also often injured, causing pain and discomfort. Some of the most commonly injured joints include the knees, hips, shoulders, ankles, and spine.
What is a joint?
Our joints are designed to withstand the loads placed on them and provide a full range of motion. Each joint is made up of at least two surfaces that touch each other and allow for movement. There are several different type of joints, but some of the most common include ball-and-socket joints like the hip, hinge joints like the elbow and knee, and gliding joints like those in the spine.
The bones that make up a joint allow for movement, and the muscles that pull the bones produce the movement. Muscles are attached to bones by connective tissue called tendons. Tendons must be both strong to stay connected under tension and compliant to prevent damage to the muscle tissues. The stiff structures that connect bones to each other are called ligaments, and they help to prevent excessive movement past our normal range of motion.
Muscles, tendons, and ligaments are attached around each joint at very specific locations, with joint surfaces shaped in exact dimensions to allow strong connections. Within most of the joints, there is fluid that lubricates the joint surfaces to reduce friction and allow for lifelong use.
Most joints in the body are lined with cartilage—a firm but pliable tissue that covers the surfaces of the bones that make up the joint. Cartilage within a joint is nourished by synovial fluid, which is “forced” into the joint cartilage through a process called imbibition.
Pressure within the joint provides nourishment to the cartilage only when movement happens. This is the reason movement is critical to joint health. Grinding of bone on bone without a cartilage covering leads to degenerative joint disease, tearing up the bones and creating bone cysts, bone spurs, and excess bone production.
All spinal discs are made up of two parts: a larger, outermost, more ligament-like portion called the annulus fibrosus, and an inner gelatinous portion called the nucleus pulposus. These two structures are primarily fluid- or water-based, and they also rely on movement and imbibition for their nourishment. Therefore, movement in the spine is also critical to the health of the spinal joints.
Why are joints injured?
Most joint injuries occur because excessive stresses are placed on a normal joint. A joint can be injured acutely from a single traumatic event, like an ankle sprain. The ankle joint is protected by ligaments on the inside and outside. When the ankle moves excessively inward, the ligaments on the outside of the joint are torn. The ankle swells, leading to bruising and pain. In some cases, small pieces of bone and cartilage may be torn away. Fracture of the tibia and/or fibula (ankle bones) can also occur.
Other joint injuries are called repetitive-stress injuries or cumulative trauma disorders. These injuries occur when relatively small abnormal stresses are repeatedly placed on normal joints. The stresses placed on joints by poor posture, poor joint position during the performance of a task, and/or poor workstation ergonomics make these joints more likely to be injured.
How can I keep my joints healthy?
Get a chiropractic adjustment! Chiropractors are expertly trained to identify, prevent, and treat common musculoskeletal conditions, including low back pain, neck pain, and joint pain. In fact, seeing a chiropractor on a regular basis can help keep joints moving freely which reduces joint degeneration and improves posture.
In addition to proper chiropractic care, there are three basic principles that are especially important to remember to ensure proper joint health:
- When lifting an object, be sure that the largest muscles in the area perform the task. The larger the muscle or muscle group utilized for lifting, the less stress placed on smaller, more vulnerable muscles and the joint itself.
- During any activities, you should be able to comfortably assume several different postures, to avoid staying in one posture for extended periods. Muscles will fatigue and joints are more likely to be injured when you hold a particular posture, especially a poor one, such as staying partially bent forward at the waist.
- When performing tasks, keep the joints that are being used either in their neutral posture or approximately halfway into their range of motion. Working with your joints at the extremes of their ranges of motion for prolonged periods places abnormal stress on those joints and can result in repetitive stress injuries.
Also, when lifting heavy objects, follow these simple suggestions:
- When lifting anything from the floor, keep the spine straight and lift with the legs.
- Do not bend over at the waist and lift primarily with the muscles of the low back. Your body is more easily injured in this position.
- Keep the object being lifted close to your body.
- Keep your elbows flexed.
- Keep your head up and your neck straight as you lift.
If you experience pain or are interested in improving your musculoskeletal health, consult your chiropractor soon. Chiropractors can also help you choose proper rehabilitation exercises and prevention techniques to get you back on your feet and reduce the likelihood of future injuries.
Remember, our joints need movement to stay healthy, whether that movement comes from our own actions or the actions of trained professionals such as chiropractors. Either way, our joints need us to “use them” before we “lose them”!