Every time you sprint to catch the bus, score a point against your opposing team, or shoot pool with friends, you’re using your extremely functional musculoskeletal system. This means a combination of bones, joints and muscles get you going where you want to go.
But muscles and bones don’t work alone. Instead there are joints that link these together. While bones support your body’s entire weight, your muscles pull your bones as you move. Joints are the connecting links that put both bones and muscles in motion.
Here’s a quick look at the anatomy of a joint so you can better understand what goes into keeping your joints healthy.
What Are Joints?
Imagine if the skeleton had only one solid bone. That would make it very difficult to move. So instead nature solved this problem by dividing the skeleton into many bones, and creating joints where the bones intersect.
Joints are also known as articulations forming strong connections that join bones, teeth, and cartilage to one another. Now you have the freedom of movement in different ways and directions.
Some joints open and close like a hinge such as your knees and elbows, allowing you to straighten or bend your legs and arms. You sit down, stand up, pick up, and put down stuff using these joints without giving it a second thought.
Others joints are meant for more complicated movements such as your shoulder or hip joint. These allow for forward, backward, sideways, and rotating movements.
Just think of everything you can do with these joints and you’ll get an idea of how limited your movement can become if any of these joints suffer damage.
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But not all joints are created equal. For instance, while joints like the knees provide stability, others like the wrist, ankles, and hips let you move, glide, skip, or run.
And just as their functions vary, so does their anatomy. Which means that you also need to take care of them in specific ways.
Some joints are purely made of tough collagen fiber while others have cartilage binding bones together. Yet others have something known as synovial fluid in between cartilage pads at the end of articulating bones.
So while you may think that all joints can be maintained using the same methods, you may need to rethink your joint-health strategy. Let’s first take a look at the different types of joints found in the body before discussing how to take care of them.
Types of Joints And Their Functions
Each joint is specialized in its shape and structure to control the range of motion between the parts it connects.
For easier understanding, you may classify joints based on the function they perform or how much movement they allow.
You can also do the same based on the structure of the joint, or the material that is present in the joint. This means looking at how the bones are attached to one another.
Both categories will let you divide joints into three broad classes;
Immovable or fixed joints
These are typically fibrous joints that are held together by dense fibrous connective tissue. Think about the bony plates of the skull to get an idea. There are links or joints between the edges of these plates made of fibrous tissue. The point is to make them immovable to protect the brain.
Slightly movable or cartilaginous joints
Here bones are held together by cartilage and allow for some degree of movement. An example could be the spine where each vertebra is linked by cartilage. With this arrangement, every vertebra moves in relation to the one above or below it, giving the spine its flexibility. This lets you bend forward, backward, or sideways without straining your back.
Freely movable or synovial joints
This third type is the most abundantly found type in the body. Here, joints have a synovial cavity that contains a fluid. This synovial fluid lubricates the area and helps the joints move easily.
This type of joint allows the greatest range of movement letting you propel yourself in just about any direction. Examples include your elbows, knees, hips, and shoulders among others.
Synovial joints can further be divided into 6 types including the following:
- Hinge joints such as the fingers and toes
- Ball and socket joints such as the shoulders and hips
- Pivot joints such as the neck
- Gliding joints such as the wrist
- Saddle joints such as the thumb
- Planar joints such as the ankle
Healthy vs Painful Joints
Unlike many other health conditions, where it’s not always possible to detect early warning signs of wear and tear, your joints are a different story. In fact, one of the first places where you feel your age is in your joints.
In most cases, joint issues generally develop over time and can make it hard for you to get around in everyday life. When things are going well, you won’t feel any discomfort or pain, but if your joints start to give way, you may experience some of the symptoms discussed here.
The foremost among these is experiencing joint pain. This may mean you’re exerting your joints too much or that you’ve already worn them out a fair bit. You must choose the best option for getting joint pain relief.
If your joints become sore or tender to touch, it could indicate possible (internal) inflammation. Remember that inflammation isn’t always visible to the eye and may continue for a while internally before symptoms become apparent externally.
Likewise, if you experience slow mobility and movement because your joints hurt, consider it another red flag. And if your joints offer little flexibility with a reduced range of motion, you may want to get a professional’s opinion.
Another tell-tale sign of joint-health deterioration is creaking joints. If you hear clicking, creaking, or cracking sounds, or feel that your joints grate every time you move, you should become concerned about possible joint damage.
Plus, you should also be ware of your joint health if you happen to be overweight. Among other things, excessive weight is also associated with increased inflammation, a leading cause of joint discomfort.
If your work involves taxing your joints, such as lifting heavy objects, or even sitting for prolonged periods, you can start to develop joint issues as well.
And finally, if you have family history of joint issues in the past, you may be more susceptible to developing certain joint-related conditions.
A Look at Common Joint Problems
A common source of joint discomfort is inflammation. In fact, many of the problems associated with joint pain stem from inflammation. This can cause joints to become inflamed, swollen, stiff and even rickety when cushioning in the area gets affected.
Here’s a look at some of the most common issues causing joints to become inflamed and painful.
Arthritis, despite being very common, isn’t well-understood. It’s not a single disease but a name given to a group of about 200 problems that affect the joints. The root cause behind all of these problems is inflammation of the joints.
Arthritis can affect people of all ages but is most common in women and older individuals. The common symptoms that you can experience during arthritis are pain, swelling, decreased mobility, and stiffness.
Symptoms can range from mild and moderate to severe. As arthritis worsens, you may find doing everyday tasks a nuisance. The inability to climb the stairs or bend down are common symptoms of progressed arthritis.
Osteoarthritis is arthritis that occurs when wear and tear of cartilage take place. Being the most common type of arthritis, this problem is characterized by excessive pain and stiffness. As the cartilage wears away, there’s no cushioning left for the bones.
So, when you move, the bones run against each other and this friction causes the feeling of discomfort. You must look into these natural remedies for arthritis and inflammation.
If the problem persists, the condition can get worse and joint strength is lost. The risk factors for this problem are obesity, age, and any previous injury. Anyone with a family history of osteoarthritis is also likely to get it at some point in their life.
Arthritis can impact any set of joints, but its effects are felt most in the hips, knees, neck, back, or the hands.
Another example is rheumatoid arthritis which is a kind of autoimmune disease. In this condition, inflammation increases in the body which causes joint damage and pain. Risk factors include genetic and environmental reasons.
For example, smoking is a risk factor that can cause rheumatoid arthritis in specific people who have a particular gene. The aim of medication that is given for treating this disease is to increase mobility and reduce stiffness.
Arthritis is diagnosed by a physician by doing blood testing and taking some imaging scans. If the problem gets worse, an orthopedic surgeon performs joint replacement surgery.
Arthritis may also affect other parts of the body when it progresses, so other specialists like dentists and ophthalmologists may also be needed.
While the knees, neck, and shoulders are spotting more susceptible to joint pain, gout presents itself in the big toe of the foot. It’s a very common type of arthritis that causes stiffness in the area which is accompanied by excessive swelling and intense pain.
While it’s common in men, women who have reached menopause also become more susceptible to gout.
The cause of this joint problem is the deposition of uric acid in the bloodstream. This could be due to two reasons; either there is too much uric acid production or the kidney is not able to efficiently remove uric acid from the body.
Inflammation, resulting from an excess of uric acid crystals in the blood, is the prime cause of this problem.
Gout attacks are specific and quick, mostly occurring in the middle of the night. Medication is used to treat gout problems.
It is used for reducing the symptoms and preventing future attacks. Since the worsening of gout can also cause kidney stones, medication is used to prevent the situation from getting any more complex.
Bursitis is an inflammatory condition that affects the bursa. The bursa is a sac that is filled with fluid, present between the skin and the joints. As it is present above the joints, it acts as a cushioning agent between bones and tendons.
Common symptoms associated with bursitis are swelling and tenderness. Bursitis mostly occurs in elbows, knees, hips, knees, and shoulders but other areas in the body can also get affected.
Bursas become inflamed when there is a repetitive movement or injury. If you indulge in any sports or physical activity where you are performing repetitive activities on daily basis, your chances of getting bursitis increase.
For example, if you bowl every day, you may get elbow bursitis. People who spend a lot of time on their knees such as gardeners are also prime victims of knee bursitis. Sometimes, bursitis may even be caused as development in another arthritis condition such as gout.
Bursitis can also be treated at home. Easy treatment methods for bursitis are forming a cold pack or resting the area. Also, painkillers such as paracetamol can also help speed up the recovery process. Although the pain goes away in a few weeks, swelling lasts for a longer time.
To prevent bursitis, it is important that you wear knee pads when you are playing and always warm-up before exercising. If your symptoms are not getting better at home even after 10 to 14 days of treatment, then seek medical help.
Repetitive Movement Injuries
Repetitive motion or stress injuries could be permanent or temporary injuries that cause damage to the nerves, tendons, or ligaments. These injuries occur when you are doing the same thing over and over again.
For example, if you are playing a sport in which you do the same motion repetitively, then you are likely to suffer from a joint condition.
Carpel tunnel syndrome is a common form of such injury. It is caused by a disorder of a tunnel that runs from the forearm to the wrist. When the ligaments and tendons in this area get compressed, swelling and pain are experienced.
This type of repetitive movement injury is common in people who type on computer keyboards on daily basis.
This injury can cause a lot of pain. Numbness and lack of motion are also associated with this joint problem. If it persists, over time, the sufferer loses flexibility in the region. If treatment is not done, the end result is a complete loss of friction.
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Of the two hands, the dominant hand is more prone to this problem and women are three times more likely to get carpal tunnel syndrome as compared to men. People suffering from wrist trauma or diabetes are also at a greater risk of getting this problem.
Rehabilitation programs for repetitive movement injury include occupational therapy and pain management techniques.
Heat and cold applications at home can also help. Exercising the affected area helps to strengthen it and prevent any complete loss of mobility.
Primary care doctors, medical doctors, sports doctors, and orthopedic surgeons are involved in the treatment of repetitive movement injuries. It is always best to get help before the condition gets any worse.
Given the important functions of mobility and movement, it becomes crucial that you take good care of your joints. After all, you put them through so much wear and tear throughout your life.
Joints that aren’t well taken care of become susceptible to injury, inflammation, and general dislocation. As age catches up with you, you can feel the effects of overuse weathering away your joints.