Advice from Primary Care Sports Medicine Physician, Michelle Horn, D.O.
Patients often ask me, “how can I keep my bones and joints healthy?” “How do I protect them from pain and inflammation?” Luckily, there are a number of things you can do. And even better, the things that will improve and protect your bones and joints can also improve your overall health and well-being.
So, let’s get started…here are a few good tips for keeping your bones and joints healthy.
- “Weight” for It
There’s no way around it: maintaining a healthy weight matters. Less force from carrying around excess weight on those weight-bearing joints equals less wear and tear. Maintaining a healthy weight typically requires a good balance of healthy diet and exercise (more on that below). In terms of diet, what you consume can make a big impact. In particular, a diet rich in Calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin C is good for bones and joints.
- Got Milk?
Yes, “Got Milk” was a catchy ad campaign for the dairy industry. But it’s also an important reminder about the critical role calcium plays when it comes to bone heal
th. (And don’t worry – even if you’re not a fan of milk, there are plenty of sources of calcium!)
Bone strength continues to build until about 25 years of age. So it’s important to educate kids/teens/young adults about bone health and get enough calcium as early as possible in life. The International Osteoporosis Foundation provides a great chart that shows recommended daily calcium intake for each stage of life. Use the link below to see the chart, a list of calcium-rich foods, and more information on diet, supplements, and maximizing both. Link: (IOF Calcium Information).
TIMEOUT: Are we talking about avoiding osteoporosis (low bone density) or osteoarthritis (degeneration and inflammation in a joint)? The answer is: BOTH. Healthier bones are less prone to fractures. But if a fracture occurs, it can sometimes lead to accelerated cartilage damage. Because cartilage protects the underlying bone from wear and inflammation- losing the cartilage causes osteoarthritis (shortened to arthritis usually). The usual treatment for end stage arthritis is joint replacement.
- The Right Moves
Exercise plays a big role in bone and joint health. But it’s also important to do it correctly. The key is balance – ensuring a healthy balance between high impact activities, such as running, jumping, heavy weightlifting which can lead to injuries, with lower impact activities, such as walking, elliptical, rowing, swimming, lighter weight/higher repetition lifting to give the joints a break from constant high impact.
Cross training by using multiple work out modalities also helps to develop and balance your muscle strength. A great example of this can be seen in the differences between “single sport” and “multiple sport” athletes. Athletes who train exclusively for one sport have a much higher rate of injury versus athletes who naturally cross train in different sports. In my opinion, the best way to optimize your success is to cross train or participate in multiple sports which forces your body to build strength, endurance and respiratory capacity in different ways.
- It’s a Stretch
Love it or hate it, S-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g is important BEFORE and AFTER exercising. Muscle tightness in one area can lead to stress on another area. So, if you have certain areas of muscle tightness (mine is my hamstrings-yikes!) you are more susceptible to joint stress than if all of the muscles surrounding a joint were able to hold the same amount of tension. This leads to muscle imbalances…which leads to bone and/or joint issues.
Stretching, along with strengthening exercises will allow joints to move with even tension, strength, and muscle balance, creating less stress and wear on joints. (HINT: this is why we often prescribe physical therapy to patients with osteoarthritis.)
For younger patients who are still growing, remember that every time bones grow, the soft tissues (muscles, tendons) have to catch up. Consistent, gentle stretching can aid in this process and help avoid the common hamstring/calf/achilles tightness, which can lead to extra stress and contribute to pediatric stress fractures.
- Not A Lot of Lattes
Too much caffeine can weaken bones and make them more susceptible to fractures. If you are drinking more than 400mg of caffeine per day you are likely weakening your bones. So, what does 400mg of caffeine look like? 4 cups of coffee (and remember actual cups are 8oz!), 10 cans of caffeinated soda, or more than two energy drinks per day. If you are drinking more than this, try to cut back gradually to avoid withdrawal.
As a side note, also think about WHY you need so much caffeine in the first place. Are you not sleeping well? Try to practice good sleep hygiene. Are you stressed or anxious? Unfortunately, caffeine can make this worse. Perhaps start a meditation practice or do some breathing exercises. If you don’t know where to start, ask your primary care physician for guidance.
- Leave Bad Habits Behind
You know what they are! Smoking and excessive alcohol use can contribute to more inflammation in our bodies, causing increased joint pain and weakened bones. Your primary care physician is ready and willing to help you change these habits.
If you prefer to start online, check out these helpful resources:
I hope these tips provided a little insight into simple ways that you can improve the health of your bones and joints, and help keep you out of our office! But if you do need us or want more information about your bone and joint health, contact us at 215-348-7000 to visit with us in either the Doylestown or Warrington office.
Dr. Michelle Horn is a Primary Care Sports Medicine Physician who specializes in treating nonsurgical orthopedic conditions as well as medical issues in athletes such as sports concussions.