You Need to Know These Everyday Habits for Preventing Joint Pain
Joint pain isn’t just uncomfortable — in many cases, it’s debilitating. Fifty-four million Americans suffer from preliminary joint pain or arthritis and struggle through day-to-day tasks for years.
Certain cases will always require a physical therapist and physician, however, there are still some everyday habits you can make regular to prevent joint pain.
1. Eat breakfast at home
An Atlanta dietician made a great argument for why you should eat at home (other than saving some money). “If you eat out, you’re more likely to start the day with high-fat, empty calories,” Rachel Brandeis, R.D., said.
A healthy diet has a positive impact on chronic pain so starting off the day with a protein-filled, high-fiber meal will put you on track. Brandeis recommended oatmeal with fruit and skim milk or a poached egg with whole-grain toast.
Next: Social media can wait
2. Put down your phone
Repetitive activities, especially texting or using your phone, can wear on small joints like your thumbs and larger ones up to your shoulder. Change the position in which you hold your phone and take breaks every 2 to 3 minutes.
“Instead of holding your phone in your hand, place it on a flat surface to give your hand a break, switching up using your finger and try a stylus to text, or use the speech-to-text function,” occupational therapist Caitlyn Foy suggested.
Next: It’s a small price to pay for healthy, happy joints.
3. Booze less
A drink or two tends to take the edge off, but it’s a trap if you think that alcohol will help alleviate the pain. Alcohol adds empty calories to your diet, disrupts your sleep schedule, and as a result, will actually increase your joint pain.
Next: Do this right and you’re in the clear.
4. Stretch right
Take a few minutes of your morning to do simple stretches that will help your joints for the rest of the day. After a good night’s sleep, your body needs to wake up its joints and prepare for the day’s work (plus, some exercise).
No matter how small the joint, there are quick morning stretches you can do before you leave for work (or at your desk). If you have the time, try fitting in a morning yoga class a few times a week to reset your mind and body.
Next: Exercise doesn’t have to be a task — it can be fun, too!
5. Pick your favorite game
It’s easy to forgo exercise because your joints hurt and use the pain as an excuse. However, moderate to vigorous exercise is good for your joints and will help in the long run. Get creative with exercise to make it fun — pick a sport your joints can handle or a weekend activity like bike riding.
Cycling, swimming, step climbing, and rowing are great, low-impact activities that still help you get fit.
Next: As Vanilla Ice once said …
6. Ice, ice baby
Just because you’re done exercising doesn’t mean the work is over. You’re still burning calories and breaking down your muscles in the hour after a good workout. Ice your joints after a run, game, or hike to keep them from getting inflamed.
Don’t put ice right on your skin — you could get an ice burn — but put the ice in a washcloth or baggie and press it to your joints for about 20 minutes.
Next: Kick your feet up and stay a while.
7. Go barefoot
In the comfort of your own home, of course. “Most shoes increase forces on the knees more than going barefoot will,” OESH shoe company and physical therapist Casey Kerrigan, M.D., said. Be sure to take your shoes off at the door — your carpets and your joints will thank you.
Barefoot means barefoot, by the way … try traipsing around sans socks to avoid slipping on hardwood floors.
Next: You’ll be excited to hear this can help your joints
8. Snack every 3 hours
Snacking isn’t the enemy — in fact, it’s your blood sugar’s friend. Snacking is even more crucial if joint pain is zapping your energy and wearing on you. Brandeis recommends high-fiber carbohydrates and lean protein.
Snacking on inflammation-fighting foods like nuts, berries, and healthy fats like avocados can reduce your risk of inflammation and prevent your joints from swelling.
Next: This isn’t fun for your mind and certainly not for your body.
9. Don’t sweat the small stuff
Stress and arthritis are a sort of Catch-22: the stress you have associated with your joint pain actually exacerbates the pain’s symptoms. People with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in particular have an exaggerated physiologic response to stress according to rheumatologist Susan M. Goodman, M.D.
Psychologists have developed ways to reduce stress in your day-to-day life. “Write down the stresses in your life. Then ask yourself which ones you can change and jot down some strategies,” Robert H. Phillips, Ph.D., the founder of the Center for Coping in New York, said.
Next: An excuse not to carry your bags
10. Ditch the heavy bags
How you carry your bags — and how heavy those bags are — can affect more than just your shoulders and back. According to Michael Perry, M.D., of the Laser Spine Institute, loading too much into your bag can alter your posture and affect how you walk.
“Weigh your purse when it’s full,” Perry said. “It should be no more than 5% of your weight.” Wear a backpack rather than a purse if possible (it distributes the weight more evenly).
Next: Grab your floppy hat and sunscreen.
11. Soak up the sun
Vitamin D helps foster strong bones, and low levels have even been linked to decreased muscle strength. A vitamin D-deficiency can even increase joint pain. While salmon and other naturally-fatty fish are good sources of vitamin D, there’s actually a source right outside your window.
Take a 20-minute morning walk to increase your natural vitamin D intake.
Next: You should have this number on speed-dial.
12. Don’t hesitate to call your doctor
Ignoring your joint pain won’t make it go away and will certainly make it worse. Unusual or excessive pain can indicate serious damage or mismanaged arthritis. You’ve probably heard or said “I’ll just walk it off” referring to various pains, but avoid doing that when it comes to your joints.
Foy recommended using assistive devices to reduce exertion like electric can openers and phone stands to give your hands a break until you can get to a doctor.
Next: Don’t be afraid to add these into your diet
13. Supplement when necessary
Whole foods are the best ways to get your daily vitamins, but adding supplements with your doctor’s approval never hurts. For those already on medication for joint pain, be sure to make the meds your primary focus: don’t skip a dose, even when you begin to feel better.
Next: You probably don’t own this and it could easily help with joint pain.
14. Remember your compression gear
This goes for traveling and when you’re active. Wear compression sleeves to promote blood circulation in your muscles and knee pads, ankle wraps, and wrist wraps to prevent injuries.
Wear compression socks and/or leggings when flying. It’ll prevent you from getting any inflammation and your joints will feel better in the long run.
Next: The best way to end the night.
15. Catch some Z’s
While you don’t want to stay to sedentary, a good night’s sleep can make all the difference in how you feel while awake. Start with good sleep habits — don’t eat too close to bedtime, avoid alcohol, exercise regularly, and don’t drink caffeine anywhere close to when you go to sleep.
Check your mattress strength (a medium-firm one is the best for preventing back pain) and try de-stressing techniques like meditation and yoga to calm down before bed. One of the major reasons for joint pain is tension, so staying calm before bedtime is good for your body and your mind.
Check out The Cheat Sheet on Facebook!