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.
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. So keep your joints healthy at every stage of your life so they can keep you moving even in old age.
But before we look at ways to do so, 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.
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.
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 aware 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 or your family has had joint issues in the past, you may be more susceptible to developing certain joint-related conditions.