Why exercise is GOOD for your joints

As a fitness instructor I have a responsibility to all my class participants to provide a safe workout environment and to avoid injury wherever possible. Quite often I might hear “lunges are bad for my knees!” and similar comments about other exercises. Sound familiar? It’s a common reason people avoid exercises like running or weight training or some fitness classes. But this assumption that exercise damages your joints has been found to be false. In fact, studies conducted over the past decade have shown that exercise helps to both BUILD healthy cartilage and to build SUPPORT around the joints, keeping them stronger for longer.

 

Building strong cartilage in your joints

Arthritis happens when the cartilage that cushions your joints wears away leaving bone rubbing on bone, which causes pain and discomfort. This isn’t the result of exercise, but of injury and constant low-level damage over time. Research has shown that exercise can actually reinforce cartilage.

Your joints are surrounded by a thin piece of tissue connected to your blood supply called the synovial membrane. This membrane produces the fluid that lubricates your joints. Cartilage has no independent blood supply, so instead, it gets its nutrients from this fluid. When exercising your blood pumps faster around your body, providing the membrane with a plentiful supply of nutrients which are infused into the fluid. What’s more, running and other high-impact exercises, have been shown to force this nutrient-rich fluid into the cartilage, keeping it healthy.

NOTE: Of course, if you already suffer from joint pain, high-impact exercises that aggravate this pain should be avoided, at least in the short term, but there’s plenty of exercises that I can show you that will help to build strength in your joints.

Muscles and ligaments – your joints’ support network

Your knees, hips and other joints rely on a supportive network of muscles and ligaments to keep them sturdy. So exercises that build these muscles and strengthen the ligaments will strengthen your joints, making you less prone to injury in the long run.

Strength training uses weight to gradually build muscle tone. If you’re new to exercise, you should begin with bodyweight exercises, working your way onto weight machines, which provide stability while you train, and then move onto free weights such as kettlebells or dumbbells.

It’s worthwhile asking a personal trainer for advice, particularly if you have specific injuries or conditions.

How exercise can relieve pain in the joints

An added benefit of exercise is it can help to prevent and relieve pain in your joints. Building strength in your joints can help improve your posture and prevent a cascade of injuries as a result, and the more you move, the less stiff and fatigued you’ll feel.

Exercise can also affect your mental outlook, flooding your brain’s receptors with ‘feel good’ endorphins which both make you feel happier and change your perception of pain. You might find that you’re more motivated and that pain becomes more manageable after exercise.

Exercises to strengthen and mobilise joints

It’s tempting to give up on exercise when you experience pain in your joints.  After all, you don’t want to make it feel worse. Here’s a great workout from Stephen Macconville, the Joint Pain Programme Director at Nuffield Health that is clinically devised for use by people with joint pain. These six basic exercises each have a progression and a regression (18 exercises in total), to suit your individual level of fitness.

Feel free to contact me for more details of workouts that will suit you. I offer personal training and one-to-one sessions where we can build a tailor made workout that is perfect for you.

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The power of the mind – the placebo effect: can my brain cure my body?

This is such an interesting programme that I simply had to share!

100 people took part in a recent trial for the BBC2 Horizon programme: Can my brain cure my body? It was a back pain study but with a twist, the twist being that everyone, unknowingly, was getting placebo. The placebo effect is well studied but at the same time still something of a mystery. (Placebo = Latin “I shall please”). It is an important part of modern clinical trials, where patients are given either a placebo or an active drug (without knowing which is which) and researchers then look to see if the drug outperforms the placebo, or vice versa.

With the help of Dr Jeremy Howick, an expert on the placebo effect from the University of Oxford, the Horizon team, headed up by medical journalist Dr Michael Moseley, set out to see if they could cure real back pain with placebo pills. It would be the largest experiment of its kind ever carried out in the UK, with 100 people from Blackpool taking part.

See the amazing results of this experiment here >>

The University of Oxford's Professor Irene Tracey told the programme that just because a placebo contains no active chemicals, does not mean the effects of taking it are not real.

"The average person thinks that placebo is something that's a lie or some fakery, something where the person has been tricked and it isn't real. But science has told us, particularly over the last two decades, that it is something that is very real, it's something that we can see played out in our physiology and neurochemistry."

Among other things, research has shown that taking a placebo can trigger the release of endorphins - natural painkillers that are similar in structure to morphine.

See Dr Jeremy Howick’s journal publication: Are treatments more effective than placebos? here >>