Health and Wellness

Stop Joint Pain Now

Don’t let little aches sideline you. Here are five simple steps to keep your joints healthy and keep you on the move.

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That pain in your knee? Yeah, you’re not alone. A recent national survey found that one-third of adults complained of having joint pain in the last 30 days, with knee and hip pain leading the way. Joint pain can sideline even the most serious fitness addicts for weeks at a time. The good news: You can minimize the risks. We talked to two experts about strategies for staying as pain-free as possible.

Eat right

You might be surprised, but one of the best ways to keep joint pain at bay is to eat right. If you’re going to the gym frequently, you’re breaking down muscle tissue as you hit the weights, run on the treadmill, or bike, bike, bike. If you don’t have the proper nutrition, it’s hard for the body to keep up. “If the muscles aren’t staying strong—able to rebuild and repair—the extra stress might end up on the joint because the muscles can’t support the weight,” explains Adam Friedman, a Gold’s Gym Fitness Institute trainer, kinesiologist and nutritionist.

Must Eats: Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids such as wild caught fish and walnuts, along with those high in sulfur such as organic beef and poultry, and spices such as tumeric that act as a natural anti-inflammatory.

Must Avoid: Grains that easily convert to sugar like bread, pasta and white rice, sugary foods and beverages like fruit juices, and sweet condiments like barbeque sauce.

Stretch it out

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Your elementary school gym teacher told you to get your blood flowing for a reason. Instead of jumping straight into your workout, you should warm up properly with easy movements. “It’s all biomechanical,” says Dr. Walter Bortz, a health and wellness expert and marathoner. “It’s keeping the joint flexible and using it in its correct range, not too much, not too little.” The key is to make the movements dynamic rather than stationary. “Active stretching gets the synovial fluid, which lubricates the joints, flowing before you take on any serious activity,” Friedman adds.

Warm-up exercises to try:

A light jog

Slow lunges

Jumping jacks

Jump rope

Lift away

Most joint pain stems from weak muscles. The reason: Weak muscles can’t support a movement, which puts extra pressure on the joints. While it’s possible to strengthen the tendons that connect the joints, it’s much more effective to build up the muscle. “When we talk about strengthening the joints, it’s more that we want people to focus on strengthening the muscles around the joints than the joints themselves,” Friedman says. “It’s about keeping the body in proper alignment.”

Focus on these muscle groups to stabilize and protect your major joints:

Core muscles for the spine

Glute muscles for the hips and ankles

Hamstrings and quadriceps for the knee

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Do something

The single most important thing to do to prevent joint pain is simple: Keep active. Inactivity will only begat more inactivity, which will begat weaker muscles and more joint pain. “My whole thing is prevention,” Dr. Bortz says. “Inactivity is not an option. If you can’t run, swim. If you can’t swim, ride.”

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Ice it down

After your workout, it’s vital to listen to your body. Ice any areas that have been giving you problems. You might even want to consider taking a quick ice bath. Friedman suggests dipping into an ice-cold bath for one or two minutes, then applying a heat source, which can be anything ranging from applying a heating pad or dipping into a jacuzzi. This will create a pump that pushes fresh nutrients and oxygen into the muscle and can help keep your joints pain-free. Or simply try the ice bath alone. “It’s cold, but the benefits are immense as far as the way it constricts your blood vessels and pushes out a lot of toxins,” Friedman says. “An ice bath gets rid of any excess inflammation. It also boosts your hormonal system.” Trust us: It’s worth the chattering teeth.