I was stretching out after my workout the other day, and I overheard two gentlemen of very different ages complaining about their old aching joints. I chuckle because I hear this conversation often, and I decided it was time to put it in perspective.
Most of our joints are synovial joints, meaning they contain synovial fluid. Synovial fluid provides nutrients and frictionless movement to our joints. Our joints rely on full motion to survive. An immobilized joint has chemical changes that are not healthy and occur within 24 hours. Synovium is the lining in our joints producing fluid to lubricate the cartilage at the end of our bones. It is a thick, colorless transparent fluid that contains protein and large sugar molecules called hyaluramic acid. I mentioned frictionless earlier, well nearly frictionless. The coefficient of friction in a normal joint is .002, compared to a skate on ice is .03 and a rubber tire on a dry road is 1.0. When I tell clients this, they say their joints feel like a 10!. The true coefficient of friction in your joints depends on a multitude of factors such as bodyweight, macro– or microtrauma, genetics, disease processes, flexibility, and physiological age.
Then, there is the nasty word — osteoarthritis (OA). It comes in all sizes and shapes and can affect one or many joints. The true definition is bone and joint damage and inflammation. OA occurs from decreased lubrication in the joint causing chemical damages and breakdown of the hard cartilage. Eventually this leads to decreased joint space. The most common joints that OA affects are knees, hips, and lower lumbar spine.
Leading to OA is arthrotic instability. As the space in the joint decreases it leaves the space in the joint slackened. There is”slop” in the joint. The body will start to lay down extra bone to decrease this”slop”causing bone spurs around the joint. As we lessen motion in the joint, we lessen the ability for a synovial fluid to move around in the joint. This decreases the nutrition and frictionless property of the joint. That’s when we have the “old aching” joints.
So, how do you keep your joints from getting stiff and painful? Maintaining full mobility to all corners of a joint helps keep them healthy and happy. What if you cannot get full range of motion in the joint? A qualified physical therapist is specially trained to assess the passive accessory motion in the joint, as well as muscle and nerve length that maybe limiting joint mobility. A physical therapist can then treat accordingly. To protect your joints, maintain a healthy body weight, keep your surrounding muscle structure strong stretch your joints daily, and minimize excessive forces on your joints. Cross training, aquatic exercise, yoga, and pilates are great options.
What if you already have a painful stiff joint? Learn about joint protection and have a biomechanics assessment to determine the origin of your extra joint stress. It may be a tight or weak muscle, a stiff joint, flat feet, abnormal posture, or disease process that is causing those “old aching” joints.
Every joint and person is different. A full assessment and individualized treatment plan can help you take control of your “old aching” joints. To schedule a free flexibility exam, click the link below!