Healthy joints are a matter of nature and nurture. There is a hereditary cause for the onset of arthritic afflictions, but manual and physical labour as well as our lifestyle can certainly exacerbate the onset and progress of certain joint diseases.

Physical non-impact exercise is greatly beneficial to the health of the joints. It reduces pain and joint stiffness. The cyclical joint movements that take place with indoor biking, cross trainer and swimming aid in maintaining a healthy cartilage layer in joints as well as keeping the muscles around the joints supple. In fact, research shows that stretching and bending helps the fluid in the joints, called synovial fluid, to nourish the joint cartilage.

Physical exercise also helps to reduce weight. Weight gain has been found to have a detrimental effect on the weight-bearing joints, particularly the hip and knee, and losing weight has a positive effect on decreasing pain and stiffness particularly in osteoarthritic joints.

Research has shown that for every pound (0.45kg) gained, the stress on the knees increases by four times.

Sadly, there are no magic potions or lotions that prevent the onset of degenerative or inflammatory arthritis. There are a number of medications that one can purchase off-the-shelf that companies claim have a positive and beneficial effect. However, there are no randomised studies to show this. 

Reducing inflammation is part of keeping arthritis symptoms under control and improving overall joint health

These supplements range from glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate to MSM and collagen. Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are naturally occurring joint substances found in healthy cartilage. Research suggests that glucosamine sulfate – alone or in combination with chondroitin sulfate – appears to relieve pain, improve joint mobility, and slow osteoarthritis-related damage to the joints. MSM is also thought to decrease joint inflammation and stiffness.

Reducing inflammation is part of keeping arthritis symptoms under control and improving overall joint health. An anti-inflammatory diet involves avoiding foods that increase inflammation while including more foods that decrease inflammation. 

This is a healthy, well-balanced diet rich in dark green leafy vegetables, avocado and fruit, particularly red grapefruit, raspberries and cherries. Onion, garlic and extra virgin olive oil have all been found to decrease the risk of rheumatoid arthritis and osteo­arthritis. Moreover, nuts, particularly walnuts, improve the quality of cartilage proteins.

Healthy bones and joints require vitamin D and calcium. Vitamin D is actually needed for calcium absorption from the gut. It may be obtained via exposure to the sun, diet or supplements.

Patients who have a low calcium or vitamin D level have decreased bone density which increases the risk of bone pains and fracture.

Kicking the bad habits of smoking and excess alcohol will also have a bene­ficial effect on our bones and joints.

Smoking causes osteoporosis, increased incidence of back pain, as well as bursitis and tendinitis. Although there is no direct relationship with osteoarthritis, smokers do have a higher risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

Joints also need to be protected particularly in high-risk sport activities or at work. This may include the use of a helmet, knee pads, elbow and wrist-supports. 

Healthy joints mean movements free of pain and disability. A healthy investment in their care will render returns of a superior quality of life.

Alistair Melvyn Pace, consultant orthopaedic surgeon

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