Keep your joints movin’, not achin’

Wina Sturgeon / Adventure Sports Weekly /

You’ve probably seen people a decade or so older than you, who move stiffly and slowly, complaining often about aching joints. It’s frightening. Will that be YOU in 10 years? Here’s the good news: It doesn’t have to be.

You can keep your joints more fluid and easier to move without pain, using just a few minutes of specific daily movement. Here’s the science: First, a joint is simply where one bone connects to another. There are the major joints of the hips, shoulders, elbows and knees. There are smaller, but important joints in the fingers, toes, ankles and wrists. Few people know that there are more than 70 joints in the human spine alone.

Nearly every bone in the body has the slippery substance cartilage on each end. This allows the ends of the bones to slide over each other without the painful friction of bone on bone. In addition, all major, as well as some smaller joints, produce a lubricating liquid called synovial fluid, which has the thick consistency of egg white.

Children have an abundance of synovial fluid. But as humans hit their teens, the easy production of this substance begins to slow down. By the time we reach the less active 40s, synovial joints need to be stimulated by movement before they begin secreting this important lubrication. Short bursts of movement, like going to the kitchen for a snack during a TV commercial, are not enough to stimulate synovial fluid production.

The result is less lubrication of joints in the knee, hip, arm and other moving parts. This can wear away cartilage, causing pain and inflammation in the joints.

In addition, every movement of a joint pulls on surrounding tissues — ligaments that connect the skeletal bones together and tendons at the end of each muscle that insert into to the bones and move them. These tissues are white because they don’t have the juicy red blood supply that allow muscles to move so easily.

When these tissues aren’t frequently flexed and stretched, they contract, or shrink. This makes it less easy to move the joint. The result is a stiff joint that’s more difficult to move. Put this together with a lower amount of lubrication, and you have joints that are stiff and painful. Naturally, anyone in this situation will move like an old person, because it’s painful to move at all.

Using the science, you can probably guess already how to cure the problem — move around. But the cure takes less movement than you may think.

Though it would be best to have a regular exercise program or go for a daily walk while swinging your arms, that solution isn’t the only one.

Being able to move youthfully, with little or no joint pain as the years go by, is certainly worth a small amount of time and effort.

A good joint routine

Do these movements slowly, with numerous repetitions, five to 10 minutes a night when your body will be at its most warmed up:

• Clench your fingers and toes, then straighten them, stretching them out as far as possible.

• Move your hands and feet around in a circle to rotate the joints of the wrist and ankle.

• Straighten and bend your limbs at the knees and elbows.

• Move your shoulders from side to side to twist at your core and spine.

• Move your chin in a wide circle to get the bones and tissues of the neck and upper back.

• March in place, lifting the knees high to move the femurs (thigh bones) in the hip socket.

• Bend over at the hips to get the lower back.