We often take the health of our bones and joints for granted — until something goes wrong. Suddenly, a broken bone, twisted knee or back pain commands our full attention. Or slowly, over time, an occasional ache becomes a relentless pain.
More than half of Americans over 18 experience bone and joint conditions, according to the United States Bone and Joint Initiative. For adults 65 and older, that number jumps to 3 in 4 Americans. Bone and joint problems are the most common cause of chronic pain and physical disability worldwide.
The role of bones and joints
Bones provide support for our bodies and protect our organs, such as our heart and brain. They give our bodies structure. They’re also a storage center for nutrients like calcium.
Joints, where two bones meet, make us flexible and able to move. Your knees, hips, wrists, elbows, and ankles are all examples of joints. Your joints have cartilage (connective tissue) that cushions your bones and keeps them from rubbing together.
Unhealthy bones become weak and are more likely to break. Keeping your joints healthy is just as important, as joints help you stay active and avoid pain.
Don’t take your everyday movement for granted. Protect your health with these tips for bones and joints.
Exercise for joint health
Exercise has so many benefits, including improving your joint health. Physical activity increases circulation in your joints, which helps speed up repair and recovery. Exercise can also help you reach or maintain a healthy weight. Extra body weight adds unneeded pressure on your joints and can cause pain.
If you have joint pain, you may feel like avoiding exercise. But talk with your doctor to find exercises that take the pressure off your joints while still benefiting your health. Depending on the cause and location of your joint pain, your doctor may recommend a lower impact exercise like swimming, weightlifting, walking or biking.
Strength training helps build strong bones
Strength training can ease joint pain or even prevent it. Strong muscles provide extra support to a hurting back or sore knee.
Strength training can also increase your bone density (strength). By strength training, you put healthy stress on your bones, which triggers them to build mass. This added strength prevents your bones from becoming less dense and weak (osteoporosis).
Eat a balanced diet with calcium and vitamin D
A framework of collagen (a protein) and the mineral calcium phosphate make up our bones. Calcium makes bones hard and strong. Bones store calcium, and they can release it into the bloodstream when other areas in the body need it. The nutrients in dairy products, eggs, vegetables, and fish improve bone health.
If you’re not getting enough calcium through food or supplements, your bones will donate more and more calcium to other parts of your body. If this happens too often, your bones may become weaker and more likely to break.
Treat joint pain and soreness with ice
Sometimes joints can get inflamed and sore, especially if you do a lot more activity than usual. Cool your painful joints with an ice pack or a bag of frozen vegetables to bring down the inflammation.
Talk to your healthcare provider for ongoing pain
If your pain isn’t getting better or is getting worse, talk to your provider.
You may have a common joint problem that, with proper diagnosis and treatment, can improve. Common bone and joint problems include:
- Back pain
- Broken bone
- Childhood conditions
- Traumatic injury
Your provider can suggest treatments to help you become pain-free and prevent future bone and joint problems.
Consult a nurse for advice
If you’re experiencing bone or joint pain, it may be time to talk to your healthcare provider. If you need help finding the right physician for you, contact our free, 24/7 Consult-A-Nurse® service. Our referral specialists can help you find a doctor who is accepting new patients, provide you with their office hours and locations, and even help you make an appointment.