Longevity for Your Joints

By Maoshing Ni, L.Ac., D.O.M., Ph.D.

With autumn in full swing, many people complain that they can feel a twinge in their joints. Whatever your age, a small ache now could become arthritis--or worse--down the road, so start taking care of your joints today. You don’t have to be one of the more than 40 million Americans who suffer from arthritis and joint pain. Take these tips to protect your joints well into the future.

The places in your body where your bones meet, joints are designed to rotate, roll or bend like a hinge. The freely moving joints, including the hip, knee, ankle, elbow, wrist, shoulder, and fingers are the most susceptible to developing arthritis and other painful issues from wear and tear. While you may not be able to control a genetic trait, there are many actions you can take to protect your joints.

1. Joint support at your fingertips

Acupuncture has been proven effective in relieving arthritic pain and also supports healthy joints. If weekly acupuncture treatments are not feasible, you can easily perform acupressure on the same acupuncture points using your own fingers. Once a day, press these two points, the combination of which is good for relaxing and strengthening tendons, joints, and muscles.

• Back Stream acupoint: Make a loose fist with your right hand and find this point on the pinkie side of the hand just behind and below the knuckle of the pinkie. Press with your left index finger until you feel soreness. Hold for 3 minutes, and then repeat on left hand.

• Kunlun Mountains acupoint: Find the point located between the outer ankle bone and the Achilles tendon. Again, feel around until your find a sore spot; then press for 3 minutes on each side.

2. Get regular low-impact exercise

One of the best ways to protect your joints is regular exercise. Exercise circulates blood flow to your joints, stimulating the body’s regeneration mechanisms. Regular exercise also strengthens the muscles surrounding your joints, preventing them from rubbing against one another and wearing down cartilage. One more bonus: Exercise also helps you maintain your ideal body weight. The more you weigh, the more stress you are putting on your joints, especially your hips, back, knees, and feet--so consider losing weight if you are heavier than your ideal natural weight.

Gentle on the joints, tai chi and qigong exercises improve overall flexibility and strengthen the joints. In my clinic I teach a simple 30-minute daily practice called “Eight Treasures qigong,” which has been passed down through my family. It has been clinically shown to strengthen bones and joints and prevent arthritis. Best of all, it is far less stressful and strenuous than other types of physical exercises, and particularly emphasizes stretching and the strengthening of joints, tendons, and muscles. Most licensed practitioners of Chinese medicine are able to teach these qigong and other tai chi exercises, or you can learn from an instructional DVD.

In addition to tai chi, you can turn to water aerobics for a gentle physical activity. Water is, after all, the perfect cushion for joints and it provides resistance for a good cardiovascular workout. Find out if your local health club offers water exercise classes.

3. Listen to your body

Throughout the day, check in with your body. Is your “mouse” wrist bothering you? Repetitive stress on joints for long periods of time can accelerate the wear and tear that causes osteoarthritis. Make sure your space is ergonomically set up to be supportive for all your joints. Also, notice if you are overworking your joints. We are accustomed to pushing through the pain and thinking that we can achieve the same feats of endurance we did a decade ago. But keep in mind, pain after activity or exercise may be indicating that you have exceeded your limits and overtaxed your joints.

Does your body tell you that you have been sitting too long? During your day, get up and take a short walk and shake it all out to decrease muscle and joint stiffness. There is a balance between underusing your joints and putting too much stress on your joints. Pay attention to what your body tells you, and you will be able to maintain an even balance between motion and rest.

4. Posture makes perfect

You don’t have to walk around with a book on your head, but if you value your joints, do make an effort to stand up straight. Over time, gravity will make sure that slump shows up as joint problems. Good posture protects the joints in your neck, back, hips and knees. Once you’re used to standing and sitting up straight, your muscles will feel an overall ease in stress because they aren't being constantly used to maintain an unsupported off-center body form. To get proper posture, pull your chin inward and pretend there is a string pulling straight up from the top of your head. While on the subject of posture, be mindful of your alignment when you are engaging in activities--are you stooping over? Jamming into your joints when you lift heavy objects? Working one-on-one with a personal trainer or a certified tai chi or yoga instructor can help you find ways to move your body that won't cause problems down the line.

5. Supplement your healthy joint program

Taking a combination of glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate together has been shown in trials to reduce symptoms of osteoarthritis, as well as improve overall joint health. Over time, they may even repair some osteoarthritic damage. Taking at least 1,000 mg glucosamine and 400 mg chondroitin daily can relieve pain and improve mobility.

6. Essential fatty acids: essential for joint health

Another way to protect your joints is to control inflammation in your body with natural anti-inflammatories such as omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs). Studies show that daily consumption of fish oil containing a rich supply of omega-3 fatty acids--in particular EPA and DHA--can help alleviate joint pain and morning stiffness in rheumatoid arthritis sufferers. To be effective, the dosage must be at least 500 mg each of EPA and DHA on a daily basis. In your diet, get your omega-3’s from salmon, trout, nuts and seeds, olives and olive oil, and avocados.

7. Try traditional herbal therapy

The traditional Chinese remedy for back and joint pain is eucommia, which strengthens bones, tendons, and ligaments. Western studies with rats confirm that both the leaves and the bark of eucommia contain a compound that encourages the development of collagen, an important part of connective tissues such as skin, tendons, and ligaments. A typical dosage is 350 mg twice a day. You can also try the traditional Chinese Arthritis/Joint formula, which includes eucommia in combination with other herbs. This formula is also helpful as a preventive formula for athletes.

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