There is no doubt that we will all experience joint and/or bone-related problems at some stage of our lives. Be it when we’re children exploring the world, through adult adventures, sports, accidents, injuries and wear and tear, falls and illness.
Whilst many of us can recover fully from these many of us are left with a weakness or vulnerabilities which continue to give us issues. Many of these issues can also result in pain ranging from mild all the way up to chronic. For this reason, it’s important to be kind to our bodies and support them in every way we can through practical tools, movement and nutrition.
Hopefully this blog will provide you with some practical pointers and nutrition tips to help improve your bone and joint health in some way
Whilst there are numerous factors which affect joint and bone health, some of the sources issues include
If we have sustained a mild or serious injury, for instance, a sprain, break, fracture-dislocation or a combination of these, the natural response of the body is to set off inflammatory markers to the area which can result in pain or swelling.
It’s important to remember that injury pain is there for a reason it requires rest and an opportunity to heal. In the case of injury NIAMS (National Institute of Arthritis, Musculoskeletal and Skin Conditions) suggest to “never try to ‘work through’ the pain of an injury” to “stop playing or exercising when you feel pain as this may only cause more harm” (1).
NIAMS also suggest seeing a doctor right away if you experience any of the following “1) An injury that causes severe pain, swelling, or numbness, 2) When you can’t put any weight on the area, 3) An old injury hurts or aches, 4) An old injury swells and 5) The joint doesn’t feel normal or feels unstable” (1).
Arthritis Ireland describes this as “an inflammation of the joints that causes pain and immobility, ranging from mild to severe” (2). They state that although “there are over 100 types of arthritis” the most common forms are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (also known as rheumatic arthritis) and fibromyalgia.
People of all ages are living with arthritis, not just the elderly and Arthritis Ireland state that the average age of diagnosis for people with rheumatoid arthritis is 35 (2).
Although there may not be a direct cure, it’s possible to alleviate and manage your symptoms through some strategies which I will discuss below.
Osteopenia & Osteoporosis
Osteopenia is described by the Osteoporosis Society as “the early stage of osteoporosis” (4). They state that “having osteopenia places a person at risk of developing Osteoporosis” and that “a diagnosis of osteopenia is a warning that you must start taking care of your bones and that prevention methods need to be put in place” (4).
The Osteoporosis society defines osteoporosis as “porous bones. It is a silent disease that is usually not diagnosed until a fractures and broken bones occur” (3).
They describe how “bone is a living tissue that is constantly being removed and replaced. Bones need balanced hormones, calcium, vitamin D, adequate calories, proteins and weight-bearing/strengthening exercise to keep them healthy” (3).
I will discuss below some practical strategies for improving your bone health both from an exercise and nutritional perspective.
This can often put extra pressure on the body and joints and it’s important to support the body in anyway we can, with many women having back and pelvis related issues a maternity orthopaedic support belt such as this one here may be an option for you click here -> (5)
In pregnancy, our bodies also secrete a hormone ironically called ‘Relaxin’, this hormone is responsible for “relaxing the ligaments in the pelvis and widening the cervix in preparation for childbirth” with relaxin levels being highest within the first trimester of pregnancy (6). It may, however, affect muscles unrelated to birth which may affect balance and posture so it’s important to be extra careful (7).
Unfortunately carrying excessive weight has many negative health implications, however we will focus on how it directly affects bone and joint-related issues.
Firstly, lets imagine our blood has to supply all of the organs in our body which is a big enough job to do. If we carry a large amount of excessive weight our heart has to work that little bit harder to supply that blood around our body which means it isn’t as efficient as it should be and we cannot perform at our best.
Next let’s think about the impact that additional weight has on our bones and joints. This additional weight can cause a significant amount of strain on the body resulting in joint pain. To further emphasise this the John Hopkins Arthritis Centre states that being “10 pounds overweight increases the force on the knee by 30-60 pounds with each step” (8).
Obesity and excessive weight is also a risk factor for osteoarthritis which may be as a result of an “increased load being placed on the joints such as the knee, which increases stress” (8). This in turn “could possibly hasten the breakdown of cartilage” (8). Whilst Arthritis Ireland suggests that obesity “also increases the chances of osteoarthritis worsening once it has developed (9)
So What Can We Do?
Of course these are just listing some common joint related issues but the following recommendations may apply to all.
Posture and Ergonomics
On a practical side we must not underestimate the importance of our posture in the prevention and treatment of joint related injuries. This is achieved through ‘ergonomics’. Basically it’s “an applied science concerned with designing and arranging things people use so that the people and things interact most efficiently and safely” and to ensure our wellbeing (14).
I love how The Back Shop describes the spine as “a superb piece of electrical and mechanical engineering” and “a vertical flexible column kept upright by a sophisticated balancing system, which is constantly feeding information on body movements to the brain”, the key here is vertical (10). They describe how when seated “this balancing system relaxes and mixed or no information is sent to the brain” this consequently results in back pain (10).
Based on my own experience for someone who has a weak back due to injury and either on the road or sitting at my desk I swear by correcting the following.
The Car: It was only recently that I realised that I’ve been sitting the wrong way in my car the whole time and would often end up putting heat packs on my neck (yes that much driving). This link will help you adjust your driving position to avoid unwanted back pain (11). Another life saver I stumbled upon was the car lumber support which naturally straightens your posture, I bought this one here from The Back Shop (12).
The Desk: For those who spend hours sitting at their desk, I feel your pain (well I used to). Lifehacker describe how, many of us may “already have started experiencing repetitive strain injury (RSI) from an improperly set up desk” (13). Here is fabulous link by Lifehacker on how to ergonomically organise your workspace (13).
Shoes: If anyone has had any injuries in the past it’s very possible that your posture may be misaligned as a result of your feet. I highly recommend getting a gait analysis done. This basically involves the measurement of where your feet exhibit most of their pressure and special insoles called ‘orthotics’ are then made for you (on the spot). I had mine done in Elverys Sports Store here’s a link to what they do (15). Let me tell you I was walking on air afterwards and my posture greatly improved.
Pillows: Oh boy is a good pillow important if you have any back or neck problems. I personally love the orthopaedic pillows to support my neck after a hards days’ work. I love my memory foam contour pillow here’s a link to one that I recommend from IrishFit.com (16).
Exercise & Strength
Physical activity has been proven to help in the management of bone and joint related issues as well as arthritis. Arthritis Ireland discuss how “as well as reducing pain and inflammation, keeping active improves joint support and lubrication, helps with weight control and has many other health benefits” (18). Exercise through movement can help to re-establish proper movement and build muscular strength.
Low Impact Exercises: Dr Sarah Jarvis suggests that “Low-impact bending and stretching – including cycling for knees and stretching exercises at home – keep discomfort to a minimum and prevent muscles and joints from seizing up” (17). Other low impact exercises include walking and swimming.
In fact breakingmuscle.com highly recommend swimming as it “1) is low impact, 2) is a form of active stretching – swimming technically will ensure full range of motion movements for many different body parts and 3) it provides just enough resistance from water to provide, over time, sustained aerobic conditioning to a rehabilitating person” (18). Trust me I have used this technique myself, I called it ‘aqua therapy’.
So we’ve discussed some of the reasons for bone and joint issues and some practical lifestyle strategies but we must not underestimate the power of proper nutrition in the prevention and treatment of bone and joint related problems. I call this medicinal nutrition as they help to build strength, reduce inflammation and aid in recovery.
As I mentioned in my blog how to combat fatigue, it is important to have a wide a variety of good quality protein for recovery and repair. In this I described how “virtually every cell in the body is made up of different protein combinations such as muscles, bones, hormonal function and immune health” (23).
The key here is to get a wide variety to meet all the different functions. Good sources would be lean meat, turkey, chicken, dairy products, cheese, pulses, nuts, seeds as well as eggs being one of the most bioavailable source of protein (24). Oily fish is also a great source of protein which contributes to the building of healthy muscle, in addition to this the Arthritis Foundation also suggest that the omega-3 fatty acids in fish are a great source of anti-inflammatories (19). Quorn is also a good source of protein for the vegetarians out there, is a mycoprotein in which is derived from mushrooms which is low in fat and high in fibre (24)
Nuts & Seeds
Let’s not forget the amazing health benefits of nuts and seeds such as walnuts, pine nuts, pistachios and almonds. High in protein, good fats and fibre they’re also natural anti-inflammatory foods (19).
Calcium plays a major role in bone health with “approximately 99% of body Ca is found in bone, where it serves a key structural role” (20). We have greater requirements for calcium “during the periods of rapid growth in childhood and adolescence, during pregnancy and lactation, and in later life” so it’s extremely important to ensure adequate calcium consumption in the diet and in supplement form (20). Inadequate calcium consumption can increase one’s risk of low bone density, osteopenia and osteoporosis. This Solgar Calcium and Vitamin D3 is a great supplement (34).
Vitamin D plays a major role in calcium absorption but also holds other functions such as hormonal and immune health, which is particularly important for anyone who may be taking medications which lower your immune system (21). Also for those of you who may be taking steroids as part of your treatment it’s important to keep an eye on your bone density and it’s highly recommended to increase your vitamin D intake and through diet and supplement form (21). The Vitamin D supplement I recommend is the Pharma Nord Vitamin D Pearls, which contain the bioactive vitamin D3 in its most absorbable form (29).
Magnesium serves many functions for instance Arthritis Society describes how it “strengthens bones, maintains nerve and muscle function and helps maintain joint cartilage” and can be found in foods such as almonds, cashews, peanuts, peanut butter; soybeans, spinach, dried beans, potatoes and whole grains (22). A good Magnesium supplement would be the Pharma Nord Magnesium, having three absorbable forms (30), magnesium can also be found in liquid form, so if preffered I really like the Floradix Magnesium (31).
Glucosamine & Chondroitin
Both glucosamine and chondroitin are naturally found in healthy cartilage. The Arthritis Foundation describe how “in laboratory tests, glucosamine showed anti-inflammatory properties and even appeared to help cartilage regeneration” whilst chondroitin helps to ensure fluidity within the joints, making them a great combination and often found together in supplements (25).
The Arthritis Foundation describes how “joints are like gears – they work best if they’re well lubricated. In a healthy joint, a thick substance called synovial fluid provides lubrication, allowing bones to glide against one another, whilst also acting as a shock absorber” (26). Unfortunately in individuals with osteoarthritis “a critical substance in synovial fluid known as hyaluronic acid breaks down” which may contribute to joint pain and stiffness (26). I highly recommend this fabulous Solgar supplement has a combination of the Glucosamine, Chondroitin and Hyaluronic Acid in it (32). Like the magnesium, the hyaluronic acid supplement can also be purchased in liquid form for superior absorption such as the LubriSynHA (33).
Natural Anti-Inflammatory Foods
Ginger – Has many healing properties which include “anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activities, as well as a small amount of analgesic property” (27). Why not try add a couple of teaspoons of ginger to your food in a curry, smoothie or take it in supplement form.
Cinnamon – Has “antioxidant properties that help inhibit cell damage” (28). Why not try add a couple of teaspoons to porridge oats for a nutritious breakfast.
Turmeric – Not many people are aware of this wonder spice. The Arthritis Foundation describe how “curcumin is the active chemical in turmeric root” (28). This is a natural inflammatory which can as a result “translate to reduced joint pain and swelling” (28). Why not try add turmeric to a curry or smoothie to make it extra nutritious.
Garlic & Onions – Both garlic and onions contain a substance called ‘diallyl disulfide’ which also is a natural anti-inflammatory compound. Again the Arthritis foundation suggest that it can “help fight the pain, inflammation and cartilage damage of arthritis” and other joint related issues (28).
Hopefully we have provided you with some practical tools to support your bone and joint health as well as some nutritional strategies for you to try.
Helping You Every Step of the Way.
Laurann O’Reilly – Nutritionist
A farmer’s daughter from Tipperary, Laurann has always had an appreciation for food, nutrition and health promotion.
Laurann has an honours BSc. Degree in Human Nutrition from the University of Nottingham and a Masters in Public Health Nutrition from University College Dublin. She is also an Associate Nutritionist with the Nutrition Society London.
With a passion for nutrition and experience working in Ireland and the UK, Laurann uses her knowledge and skills to help people achieve optimum health and assists in the prevention and treatment of nutritional related problems through means of nutritional consultation, personalised diet plans, health promotion and education.
Laurann has an Honours BSc. Degree in Human Nutrition from the University of Nottingham, a Masters in Public Health Nutrition from University College Dublin, is an Associate Nutritionist with the Nutrition Society London, a professional member of the Celiac Society Ireland, is registered with the Institute of Public Health Ireland and fully insured.