Although not often the point of focus when it comes to health, wellness, or performance, our joints still play a critical role in optimal functioning. A joint consists of a combination of bone, synovium, ligaments, cartilage, and muscle. Joints are the joining of two or more bones – allowing the body to stretch, bend, and twist.¹ Examples of joints include: hips, knees, and ankles. A thin layer of cartilage covers the end of our bones acting as a cushion, so force is dispersed over a larger area when pressure is applied.¹ Its smooth surface also prevents damage to the bones from rubbing against each other in the joint capsule.
A joint capsule, or synovium, is responsible for making synovial fluid that both nourishes and lubricates the joint.² The outer layer is made up of firm, fibrous tissue that play a major role in joint mobility. Surrounding the joint capsule are ligaments that connect the bones and hold the joint together, prevent dislocation, and allow for fluidity of joint movement. Muscles, attached to the bones through tendons, are responsible for the movement of a joint. Ligaments, tendons, and muscles are made up of a structural protein called collagen.² Without sufficient collagen, these connective tissues, including the bones themselves, begin to lose their elasticity and become brittle.¹
It is important to protect joints in order to keep them healthy and avoid chronic pain and injuries. Joints that are not properly cared for can become susceptible to injury, and inflammatory diseases like arthritis, bursitis, and dislocations.³
- Arthritis is caused by cartilage damage on the bone and results in inflammation, pain, stiffness, and swelling. If not properly cared for, it can severely damage our joints - permanent
- Bursitis is inflammation of the synovial sac (bursa) due to overuse or excessive pressure - temporary in most cases
- Dislocations occur when a bone is forced out of position.
As we age, gain weight, maintain incorrect posture or exercise form we can damage and wear down our joint cartilage.⁴
Performance Issues and Injury Risk
Acceleration, speed, and force production are key components of performance. To simplify how the joints affect these performance metrics, let's take a look at the mechanics of a jump.
The main goal of a jump is to gain height. In order to overcome the weight of gravity, a person must generate force and accelerate quickly during that load, explode, and drive phase of a jump. After squatting, a slight pause occurs before changing direction vertically. At this moment, a crucial coaching cue is ‘triple extension’. This involves the extension of the hips, knees, and ankles in one swift motion. However, a joint that is worn, immobile, or stressed may not be able to efficiently handle and transfer the force produced by the muscles; thus resulting in lower performance or injury. In fact, recent data analyzing injuries and jump scans on a force plate show a strong correlation between jump deficiencies and lower body joint injury.⁵ The concept translates to all joint, no matter the age or activity. Healthy joints are essential to efficient movement, performance, and everyday functions.
The best and most effective way to care for your joints is to keep your muscles, ligaments, tendons, and bones strong and healthy. Regular exercise, including mobility, strength, and endurance routines have all been shown to reduce joint stiffness, keep joints flexible, aid in muscle strength, and keep joints well lubricated.⁴ However, be careful not to overtrain. Too much, in fact, can cause increased levels of inflammation and contribute to poor joint health.³ If you currently have joint issues, it is important to utilize low impact exercises that put minimal impact on your joints like cycling and swimming.
You can also protect your joints by avoiding chronic stress, walking regularly, alternating between hot and cold pack applications on sore areas, and maintaining a healthy weight.⁴ Excessive weight can place a heavy burden on your joints. Research has shown that too much force makes it harder to improve rheumatoid arthritis conditions.⁴ Keeping excess inflammation under control is especially important in avoiding rheumatoid arthritis as well as other joint-related problems. Incorporate anti-inflammatory foods into your diet like sweet potatoes, coconut milk, salmon, kale, and nuts on a regular basis.
Joints will also break down if you live a sedentary lifestyle. To a certain extent, the less movement you endure will result in more stiffness that you will experience. If a joint is immobilized for a long time, the firm fibers on the outer layer of the joint capsule will get shorter. Shrinking the capsule makes it difficult for the joint to move, which is why it is important to do mobilization exercises after injury or if you are normally sedentary.⁶ The human body was not designed to sit all day so get up and make it a priority to move every day. If your work requires you to sit for long hours, be sure to take breaks often, stretch, or take a brisk walk if possible. Keeping your muscles strong will also aid in supporting your joints and prevent premature breakdown.
Try adding these to your diet and routine to help revive and support your joint health:
- Diet - your joints will begin to break down if you aren’t providing your body with the right kinds of nutrients.³
- Calcium and vitamin D are important for healthy bones. Calcium can be found in kale, yogurt, broccoli, and other dairy products.
- Vitamin D is important for calcium absorption, and can be found in Portobello mushrooms, fatty fish, cod liver oil, and sunshine.
- Protein sources like meats, fish, beans, and especially collagen are great to help support the structure of joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
- Fish oil, or omegas, are also great options to help fight inflammation and lubricate the joints. For the perfect combination, try Heart + Joint and Power + Performance by TimTam!
- Recovery - there are many tools and techniques out there to help with inflammation and ensure proper recovery for the ENTIRE body.
- PowerMassager- provides percussion and vibration to an area, similar to massage, that can help with pain, inflammation, and range of motion
- Heat and Topicals- helps to loosen and lubricate the joint
- Cold- can reduce inflammation, swelling, and pain immediately after injury or overuse
- Floss Bands- helps to flush out inflammatory properties and get blood flow to the area
- Support Wraps- helps stabilize joints during movements and under excessive loads