Physiatrist Dr. Elise Itano specializes in non-operative treatments for musculoskeletal injuries and conditions, helping her patients improve joint function and relieve pain. As part of her whole body approach to patient care, Dr. Itano shares 16 simple lifestyle changes that can help reduce the risk of aggravating or developing musculoskeletal problems. Weaving these suggestions into your day can make a big difference in long-term bone and joint health.
Replace energy drinks and soda with water
Water makes up about 80 percent of your body’s cartilage (the flexible, connective tissue that cushions your joints). If you don’t stay well-hydrated, your body will pull water from cartilage and other areas, which can wreak havoc on your joints. Replacing soda and energy drinks with water will help deliver better hydration to your joints and heart.
Hang out at the salad bar
Research says that popular veggies from a salad bar – romaine and Bibb lettuces, broccoli, spinach, kale or parsley – can slow down cartilage destruction and lessen the amount of bone loss that occurs with age, thanks to their high calcium counts. But remember to go easy on the dressing.
Neither sitting nor standing on your feet all day is good for your joints. When possible, alternate between the two positions to prevent stiffness and strain. If your job primarily involves sitting, try to take a break and stand up every 30 minutes or so. Whether at home or the office, make time for simple stretches throughout the day.
Kick the butt
Those who smoke have a greater risk of bone fractures than nonsmokers. In fact, smoking can reduce bone mass, which can lead to osteoporosis. Kick the habit to keep your body strong and healthy.
Resolve to reduce
Every extra pound we gain puts four times the stress on our knees. The flip side is that even a small amount of weight loss gives our knees relief. Research has shown that losing as little as 11 pounds may improve joint health and cut the risk of osteoarthritis of the knee by 50 percent.
Take the plunge
Aquatic exercises can help maintain flexibility and range of motion, while taking a load off of your joints while you exercise.
Don’t think about hitting the gym, the pool or the trails (or any exercise for that matter) before warming up. Warming up your body before exercise is like warming your car up in the winter. To keep it running smoothly and for optimal joint safety, start slowly and get up to speed only after your muscles and joints have at least five minutes prep time.
Handle heavy loads
Use your largest, strongest joints and muscles to take stress off of smaller hand joints and to spread the load over large surface areas. When you lift or carry items, use the palms of both hands or use your arms instead of your hands. Hold items close to your body, which is less stressful for your joints. For joint safety, slide objects whenever possible rather than lifting them.
Build strong bones
Boost your calcium intake, because a diet rich in this important mineral helps to keep your bones sturdy and can lower your risk of osteoporosis (the brittle bone disease). There are plenty of sources besides milk, including yogurt, broccoli, kale, figs, salmon and calcium supplements.
Pick, pour or peel
If you’re looking for a tasty treat, reach for an orange – or a tall glass of orange juice. Why? Research shows that vitamin C may help to slow the progression of osteoarthritis.
Cut back on caffeine
While you may need that extra burst of energy in the morning, try and resist those second and third cups of coffee. Studies show that the extra caffeine can weaken your bones.
Take your vitamins
Supplementing your diet with a multivitamin is a good way to get the nutrients you may lack in your diet. Strong joints (and overall joint health) will benefit from bone-building calcium and vitamin K, tissue-repairing vitamin C, pain-relieving vitamin E, folic acid and more.
Ditch the high heels and choose function over fashion
Shoes shouldn’t just look good; they should work well, too. Look for flexible, supportive shoes that are squared or rounded at the toe so your toes can move around. A shoe with a rubber sole will give you more cushion. Make sure your shoe is flexible at the ball of your foot. Experts say a three-inch heel stresses your foot seven times more than a one-inch heel. In addition, heels put extra stress on your knees and may increase your risk of developing osteoarthritis.
Low-impact exercise can offer the same calorie-burning benefits without the painful pounding. Exercise also improves joint mobility. Forgo heavy-impact exercises, such as tennis, kickboxing and step aerobics, and switch to more low-impact exercises. Golfing, swimming, yoga, and cycling are all easier on the joints.
Increase your range
Range-of-motion exercises (such as stretching) are a good way to keep your muscles and ligaments flexible and strong. Add weights to your workout and you’ll tone up, too.
Say yes to yourself
It may be tough at first, but saying no to others lets you say yes to extra time for yourself. It also frees up time to allow you to say yes to exercise, healthy eating and stress reduction – three power-packed methods of improving your health.
Sources: Compiled from Healthline, The Cleveland Clinic, and The Arthritis Foundation
When you experience an injury involving your spine, bones, muscles, or joints, a board-certified physiatrist can be a practical first step toward evaluation and treatment. Dr. Elise Itano is trained to pinpoint problems and provide non-operative interventions and treatments. With an orthopedics and sports medicine focus, she helps patients relieve their pain, enhance performance, and regain function without surgery. Dr. Itano also refers to and works closely with our orthopedics team when surgical options may be appropriate.