The joints love (and need) constant movement. They also happen to like it if this movement is non-acute, non-threatening and includes the entire range of motion available to the joint.
For instance, have you ever watched a professional sports team warm-up? Generally their warm-up includes a series of funny-looking exercises and movements as they skip down the field back and forth, kicking their legs back behind them and doing movements like high-knee drills. These drills are designed to move the joints in their available ranges of motion.
For those of us not involved in a professional sport, in order to keep our joints healthy and pain-free, we have to do these exercises on our own. A good example is the knee, a joint likely to become stiff from time to time whether we are athletes or not.
When the knee becomes stiff it has likely lost some joint fluid, the stuff that lubricates the surface and keeps it from rubbing. To get a joint’s fluid going again, constant movement is best. Also, your diet and sleeping habits can affect your joint health significantly.
Consider the following tips that will help you enjoy a lifetime of happy, healthy joint movement.
1. Incorporate more movement in your day.
When sitting at a desk, once in a while bend the knee back and forth 20 to 30 times. When standing reach back and pull the ankle towards your backside repeatedly. If you are laying down slide the heel up towards you as far as you can. If you have access, ride a stationary bike.
All of these movements will lubricate the joint and help diminish tightness and pain. Sitting, standing or laying still for too long without this movement will just make you stiffer. This is often why people are stiff first thing in the morning; sitting still makes a dry joint worse.
2. Eat more ‘good’ fats and oils.
Never underestimate the power of nutritional foods for any ailment, especially those related to joint pain or stiffness. The joints will respond positively or negatively depending on what you put in your body, so make your choices wisely.
Maybe you have heard about the powers of Omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and fish oil. All of these can help the joints create joint fluid and/or decrease inflammation in the joints. Eating cold-water fishes (like anchovies or salmon), walnuts and flaxseed oil can boost the anti-inflammatory fighting power of your cells.
In ancient Hindu Ayurvedic medicine, an entire class of nutrition is devoted to those with low oil contents. As well as eating properly, this practice also swears by adding oils to your skin, including rich sesame and coconut oil.
3. Steer clear of refined sugars and starches.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, sugars—especially refined sugars—have a high inflammation-provoking response. Eating foods such as sweets and baked goods will promote inflammation in your body, including in your joints. This will make it harder for you to heal from an injury and will keep your joints stiffer and generally less happy. Try to limit this food group.
4. Switch your sleep position.
The way you sleep can certainly affect your joint health. As I mentioned earlier, hours and hours of inactivity is not good for the joints. However, what’s worse than that is a poor posture for hours overnight.
If you sleep on your back, position a thick pillow under your knees if possible. If you sleep on your side, put a pillow between your knees so your legs stay shoulder-distance apart. Under your neck, make sure your pillow supports the curve of your neck nicely; much like an arch support is meant to support your foot. The pillow should be supportive enough that the head is in-line with your body, not dropping down or propped up. Try to avoid stomach sleeping, as your neck should not be rotated all night, but in-line with the rest of your body.
5. Don’t sit for too long.
Your position during the day should be an ergonomically correct one, and it should change periodically. Sitting for long periods and standing for long periods should be avoided as much as possible.
If you work at a desk, make sure to bend the knees back and forth periodically, as well as any other joints that feel stiff or cause you pain. Remember, moving the joint in its available range of motion in a consistent way during the day without pain is the best preventative medicine and the best way to calm down an unhappy joint!