Cartilage and Joint Support
Our bones are connected to each other in joints that allow us to do multiple types of movements. To protect the bones from constantly rubbing against each other during movement, we have cartilages, which are smooth tissues surrounding the ends of the bones. Together with the synovium and the lubricant called synovial fluid, the cartilage cushions the bones in the joint and absorbs shock, especially in weight-bearing joints.
People with healthy joints can do repeated activities, such as running for miles, without hurting themselves. Healthy joints also protect the body during high impact activities that involve slamming the feet against the ground, such as jumping or jogging. These are possible because the cartilages within the joints act as shock absorbers that reduce the impact or transfer of force from bone to bone.
Cartilages are smooth and hard tissues that are nourished by the synovial fluid found within the joints. This thick fluid contains sugars and proteins, which are produced by the synovium, a layer of cells found in the joint linings. The synovial fluid acts like a pliable sponge between the bones that gets squeezed out during high impact and springs back when pressure is released. In this manner, the cartilage and the synovial fluid serve to absorb shock and protect the bones from injury.
The bones are held in place to form a joint by soft tissue structures called ligaments and tendons. Ligaments connect one bone to another, while tendons connect muscles to the bones. The action of the muscles influences movement of the joints. These structures act as a unit, and injuries to any of these may affect joint function. Aside from acute injury, wear-and-tear from repeated activities as well as the normal ageing process can also affect the integrity and function of the joints.
How to Keep the Joints Healthy
Repeated activities, trauma, and disease can cause various injuries to the joint and its surrounding structures. Here are some tips to keep your joints healthy and protect them from injuries:
- Always maintain good posture. Avoid slouching, which is not good for the joints. Good posture while sitting and standing protects the joints from the neck to the knees. Maintaining proper posture is also important when lifting or carrying objects. Experts recommend using the biggest muscles when lifting, by bending the knees instead of the back, and avoiding lopsided postures when carrying objects to avoid stress on some joints.
- Strengthen your body core. Include exercises that strengthen the core of your body in your exercise routines. These activities strengthen the muscles of the chest, abdomen and back. Strong abdominal and back muscles help in keeping your balance and preventing falls.
- Watch your weight. A healthy weight helps protect the joints. The weight-bearing joints (hips, knees, and back) support some, or all, of your weight. Excess weight causes more stress and leads to wear and tear on your joints. Research shows that every excess pound puts four times more stress on your knees.
- Be active. Exercise helps you maintain a healthy weight and can reduce swelling of joints. If you have joint pain, choose exercises that will not put stress on your joints, such as swimming or cycling.
Exercise to strengthen your muscles and support your joints. Being sedentary increases your risk for joint pain and stiffness. While working on a computer, for example, try to change your positions frequently. It is also advisable to take frequent breaks to stretch, stand, or go for a walk.
- Know your limits. Some types of activities and exercises might be too tough for your joints and may cause pain. Ask a coach, trainer, or physical therapist to help you modify your routines.
- Protect your joints. Always use safety gear such as helmets, knee pads, elbow pads, and wrist pads when engaging in high-risk activities , as well as work-related activities that require repetitive movements. Serious injury or repeated minor injuries can cause damage to the cartilage and lead to chronic joint problems.
- Eat right. A healthy diet helps build strong muscles and bones. Eat calcium-rich foods such as yogurt, milk, broccoli, kale, and fortified foods like cereals to strengthen your bones. Eat protein-rich foods such as seafood, lean meats, beans, legumes, nuts, and soy products for strong muscles. Vitamin D from sunshine and foods like soy milk and fortified cereals helps the body to absorb calcium from food. Some studies also suggest that eating foods rich in antioxidants, including vitamin C, can help keep joints healthy.
Supplements for Healthy Joints
Some experts recommend supplementing the diet with certain nutrients that can help support cartilage and joint health. Some of these include:
Glucosamine, a natural substance found in healthy cartilage. Glucosamine supplements can help prevent cartilage breakdown, especially in the knees, where joint pain is common. Some studies suggest that using glucosamine with chondroitin helps improve joint pain, and may be more effective popular pain killers like acetaminophen. It is also believed to improve joint mobility.
Chondroitin Sulphate, a natural compound that is involved in joint matrix formation, reduces joint pain and inflammation, improves joint function, and slows progression of arthritis. It is believed to help keep the joints lubricated and may help reverse cartilage loss.
Calcium, which helps strengthen bones and prevents degradation, may help prevent joint damage and joint pain. Calcium supplements also help replace calcium lost from normal metabolic processes.
Vitamin D3, when taken with calcium, can reduce bone loss and increase bone density due to osteoporosis.
Niacinamide, a B-vitamin, helps improve joint flexibility and reduces inflammation.
S-Adenosylmethionine, or SAMe, is a substance that helps increase the number of cartilage cells and improves cartilage thickness. It is believed to improve joint mobility and ease symptoms of fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, bursitis, tendonitis, and chronic low back pain.
Ginger, which is believed to have natural anti-inflammatory properties, can help reduce joint pain and inflammation.
Turmeric, which contains an active ingredient called curcumin, reduces joint inflammation, pain, and stiffness.
Fish oil, which contains omega-3 fatty acids, has anti-inflammatory properties, which can help reduce joint inflammation and pain.
Bromelain, a natural substance found in pineapple, acts as an anti-inflammatory agent, which may decrease joint pain and swelling, and increase joint mobility.
This information should not take the place of medical advice. We encourage you to talk to your health care providers (doctor, registered dietitian, pharmacist, etc.) about your interest in, questions about, or use of dietary supplements and what may be best for your overall health.
WebMD. Caring for Your Joints.
WebMD. How Your Joints Work.
WebMD. Alternatives and Supplements for Arthritis Joint Pain.
Health Guidance. The Best Supplements for Joint Pain.