Joint pain – caused by arthritis, overuse, underuse, heavy physical activity, sprains or strains – is one of the most common complaints doctors regularly hear. In a recent national survey, one-third of adults over the age of 45 reported having joint pain within the past 30 days, with knee pain being the most common, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reference.
“Maintaining a healthy weight is far and away the best way to protect our joints,” said Douglas Connor, MD, a Sports Medicine Physician with ThedaCare Orthopedic Care. “Obesity is the top risk factor for the development of arthritis that we, as individuals, can control.”
Dr. Connor noted there is also another aspect that should be considered.
“After maintaining a healthy weight, keeping active is the next most important factor,” he said. “Motion is lotion for our joints. When joints get stiff, tight and weak, they hurt more, and then people tend to be less active, which is exactly the opposite of what they should do. That’s a bad cycle to get into. It can truly become a ‘use it or lose it’ scenario.”
Referencing the knee, Dr. Connor noted that for every pound a person loses, his or her knee experiences four less pounds of weight with every step taken.
“If you multiply the number of steps a person takes over the course a day, the cumulative effect literally can be a ton less weight on a knee in one day,” he explained. “That is truly significant.”
Dr. Connor observed that ankle arthritis is less common than knee issues, but said some hip pain could also be attributed to being overweight.
“When I talk about weight concerns regarding joints, I’m typically referencing lower body joints,” he said. “Shoulder and neck arthritis would be much less affected by weight.”
And shoulders are a different case.
“Shoulders are tricky because it is difficult to prevent a shoulder issue outside of avoiding a traumatic injury,” said Dr. Connor. “As we age, our rotator cuffs often wear out and can develop tears, and we start to lose range of motion and develop arthritis. If someone has shoulder arthritis, I tell them that if overhead lifting activities bother them, keeping their elbows closer to their body will help. The shoulder is going to like that approach a lot more and will likely not be as aggravated.”
Diet is Key to Healthy Weight
When it comes to maintaining a healthy weight or losing weight, Dr. Connor said diet is incredibly important.
“For better or worse, most of us have a hard time losing weight just by exercising,” he said. “We lose the majority of weight through our diet. Eating a healthy diet that includes getting the nutrients we need for good bone health is important. That means we should be sure we are getting enough calcium and Vitamin D in our diet, as well as the nutrients that help us repair bodily injuries. Generally, a well-rounded diet will provide most of the nutrients we need. We’re all different, so no specific diet plan is going to work for everyone. Talk to your primary care provider, and find what makes your body feel healthy and keeps your joints pain free.”
And we must remember – keep moving.
“Exercise is vitally important, and a part of maintaining an active lifestyle might be figuring out which exercise works best for you,” he said. “A person’s joint issues may limit what they should be doing. For example, low-impact activities might be more appropriate for those who already have joint pain. Doing more aquatic exercises or using an elliptical machine, stationary bike or a recumbent bike may be a way we can keep you moving.”
He cautioned those who are already regularly exercising should not forget the importance of warming up and cooling down before and after exercising.
“We encourage everyone to slowly build into a new exercise routine,” he said. “It’s easy to get excited about an exercise program and jump into it, and pretty soon you are doing more than ever before and things begin to hurt. That’s when we worry about the possibility of injury.”
Dr. Connor noted that when he visits with a patient with arthritis, he discusses the importance of finding exercises that work for them. Tai chi and yoga are two low-impact exercise programs Dr. Connor recommends.
“There is good data behind these two exercise activities,” he said. “Some studies say tai chi can be as effective as physical therapy for managing knee arthritis. It’s a great low-impact activity that can be helpful in maintaining balance, flexibility, strength and stronger core muscles.”
He noted that yoga may mean different things to different people.
“Some yoga routines may be difficult for those with arthritis, so experimenting with different programs can help an individual find a routine that works for them,” said Dr. Connor. “You may not be the most flexible person in the class, and that is okay. Small gains can pay big dividends in making you feel better.”
For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to improving the health of the communities it serves in northeast and central Wisconsin. The organization delivers care to more than 600,000 residents in 18 counties and employs approximately 7,000 health care professionals. ThedaCare has 180 points of care, including seven hospitals. As an organization committed to being a leader in Population Health, team members are dedicated to empowering people to live their best lives through easy access to individualized care, supporting each person’s own health and wellbeing. ThedaCare also partners with communities to understand unique needs, finding solutions together, and encouraging health awareness and action. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care
Network Member, giving specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a not-for-profit health system with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs, as well as primary care.
For more information, visit thedacare.org or follow ThedaCare on social media. Members of the media should call Cassandra Wallace, Public and Media Relations Consultant at 920.442.0328 or the ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah switchboard at 920.729.3100 and ask for the marketing person on call.