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Understanding Me - Joints

What exactly are joints?


  • Joints are the place where two bones meet or connect.

  • Joints have ligaments, which are short bands of tough fibrous tissue that connect one bone to another, forming the joint.

  • Tendons are made of elastic tissue and also play a key role in the functioning of joints. They connect muscle to bone.

  • A coating of another fibrous tissue called cartilage covers the bone surface and keeps the bones from rubbing directly against each other.

  • Some joints move and some don't. Joints in the skull don't move, except directly after birth.  Most of the joints in the body are synovial joints. These are movable joints. They are located mostly in the limbs, where mobility is critical. They contain synovial fluid, which helps nourish the cartilage and enables joints to move freely (think of it like lubricating oil).

  • Ball and socket joints, such as hip and shoulder joints, are the most mobile type of joint. They allow you to move your arms and legs in many different directions.

  • Ellipsoidal joints, such as the one at the base of the index finger, allow bending and extending.

  • Gliding joints are found between flat bones that are held together by ligaments. Some bones in the wrists and ankles move by gliding against each other.

  • Hinge joints are those in the knee and elbow. They enable movement similar to the way a hinged door moves.


What can go wrong?


  • Some people get arthritis. The term arthritis is often used to refer to any disorder that affects the joints. Although you might think arthritis affects only older people, it can affect young people, too. There are many different forms of arthritis.

  • Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis and is seen especially among older people. In osteoarthritis, the surface cartilage in the joints breaks down and wears away, allowing the bones to rub together. This causes pain, swelling, and loss of motion in the joint. Sometimes, it can be triggered by an injury to a joint, such as a knee injury that damages the cartilage.

  • Rheumatoid arthritis is known as an autoimmune disease because the immune system attacks the tissues of the joints as if they were disease-causing germs. This results in pain, swelling, stiffness, and loss of function in the joints. People with rheumatoid arthritis may also feel tired and sick, and they sometimes get fevers. It can cause permanent damage to the joints and sometimes affects the heart, lungs, or other organs.

  • Gout is a form of arthritis that is caused by a buildup of uric acid crystals in the joints, most commonly in the big toe. It can be extremely painful. There are several effective treatments for gout that can reduce disability and pain.

How do we keep joints healthy?


  1. Try to avoid carrying extra weight. As well as the other health risks associated with carrying unnecessary weight, it is estimated that every extra pound of weight adds an increase in pressure on your weight-bearing joints of up to 4 pounds.

  2. Keep mobile. Move often, avoiding staying in one position for long periods of time. Use every type of movement, making sure all joints are reminded to move each day (think of them like moving parts of an engine that need oiling, easing and testing each day or they seize up and rust!).

  3.  Include ‘weight-bearing’ exercise to build up your strength. The best and most easily accessible form of this is walking, or if you like it, dancing. Weight-bearing exercise strengthens both bones and muscles. Try to walk every day for 30 minutes or so. You could break it up into shorter sessions (eg 3x10 minutes) if that suits you better.

  4. Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. Joints particularly benefit from vitamin D and calcium. Include oily fish in your diet, some dairy foods if you like them, as well as loads of green leafy veg. To get adequate Vitamin D you will almost certainly need a supplement during the winter months (unless you live with year-round hot sun). Many people recommend a good quality Omega 3 supplement to support healthy joints.

  5. Keep your joints in mind, don’t take them for granted. Often we expect them to put up with anything and everything, and then find ourselves dismayed when they go wrong and cause daily pain and restriction. Treat them with respect and TLC and they’ll support you for much longer.

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