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Have achy joints? Though some discomfort is natural due to age, in many cases, it may also be a case of move it or lose it when it comes to joint mobility.
“Keep joints moving on a consistent basis enhances cartilage health and nutrition to minimize degenerative changes,” says Lucian C. Warth, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Indiana University Health. “Stretching is important to maintain motion and ensure that the joint is functioning optimally; this will minimize stress transferred to the cartilage, and minimize the progression of arthritis.”
As a joint gets arthritic and loses motion, muscles actually have to work harder to do activities associated with daily living so it’s important to keep the surrounding tissues strong as well.
If you want to live your life to the fullest, giving your “bone connectors” a little attention is a smart idea, and what better time to do so than right now since May is National Joint Mobility Awareness month?
Why is joint mobility important to maintain?
“Joint mobility is very important to maintain throughout all stages in life simply because it can unlock better overall human movement, keeping the rest of your body's organ systems healthy,” says Mark Russ PT, DPT, a physical therapist with Indiana University Health. “As each joint moves, it provides healthy mobility of synovial fluid (the material between our skeletal joints) to wash over the entire joint, supplying needed lubrication and nutrition that the joint requires.”
How is joint mobility affected as a person ages?
As a person gets older, joint mobility may be affected by decreased synovial fluid lubrication and decreased joint space from issues such as osteoarthritis. This, in turn, can cause joint pain that will further create joint stiffness. “In a sense, the joints forget how to move, but this can be restored by completing individualized exercises to restore mobility,” says Dr. Russ. “Mobility exercises move each joint through its available range-of-motion, which helps prevent mobility loss, injuries, and helps enhance quality of life.”
Are there specific joints that should be focused on?
“All joints in the human body provide a specific function therefore each joint shows an individualized importance,” says Dr. Russ. For overall gross mobility (such as walking and reaching to grab/pick up objects), pay attention to your spinal joints, shoulder, hip, knee, ankle, and elbow joints. For more fine motor mobility tasks (such as writing, typing, buttoning a shirt) your wrists and hand joints in addition to your neuromuscular coordination system are important for optimal functioning.
How best can a person maintain joint mobility?
“Making exercise and stretches a part of your daily routine reduces chances of injury, improves sensory-motor perception, and provides better head-to-toe mobility for a more enjoyable life,” says Dr. Russ.
Additionally, daily stretching for all joints of the body is very important for protecting joint mobility. “Stretches help maintain range-of-motion of your joints, which boosts circulation of synovial fluid, keeps the joints lubricated, and functioning at their best,” says Dr. Russ. With that in mind, here are some simple stretches and exercises Dr. Russ recommends.
Neck Clocks. Drop your chin towards your chest then slowly rotate your head clockwise in a circular motion. After one circle, reverse counterclockwise. Repeat 15 times per day.
Shoulder Wall Slides. Face a wall and slide your hands up the wall until a stretch is felt. Hold for five seconds. Repeat 10 times per day.
Spinal Lumbar Rotations. Lie down on your back. Bend your knees (keeping knees and ankles together) with feet planted on the floor and knees pointing to the ceiling. Keeping your head and upper back on the floor, drop your knees to right side, hold 10 seconds. Then rotate to left side, hold 10 seconds. Repeat 15 times per day.
Hip Single Knee to Chest. Lie down on your back. Use your hands to bring one knee towards your chest. Hold 15 seconds. Then switch legs. Repeat five times per day.
Knee Hamstring Stretch. Start standing. Place one heel onto a stair or low chair, keeping knee straight. With hands on waist and keeping your back straight, hinge forward from your hips until a stretch is felt at the back of your knee. Hold 15 seconds. Then switch legs. Repeat five times per day.
-- By Kimberly Dawn Neumann