Each New Year people everywhere incorporate goals for losing weight and staying fit into their resolutions. When it comes to joint health, the two main reasons to exercise and watch your weight in this New Year include preventing joint pain and reducing your risk for osteoarthritis.
Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type of arthritis in the United States and is also called the “wear and tear” arthritis. Being overweight can increase a person’s risk for developing osteoarthritis due to added wear and tear on the joints. OA is a result of smooth cartilage that once cushioned the joints wearing away and becoming rough and frayed. The stress of bearing extra body weight is particularly challenging on the knee and hip joints. Our knees, for example, feel a force that can be two to five times a person’s body weight during daily activities such as going up and down stairs and squatting. In OA, cartilage does not grow back or heal. The damaged cartilage can cause severe pain, limit a person’s activities and potentially cause a total loss in mobility.
With exercise, weight loss and weight management, the reduced pressure on the joints also greatly reduces the risk of joint pain and OA. Exercise strengthens the muscles that surround each of our joints. Strong muscles help with weight bearing on the joints and as a result, the bones in the joints will carry less of the weight which helps to protect the cartilage from damage. Muscle strengthening exercises can be found below:
• Calf Stretch: Stretching your calves and the muscles in the back of your leg will help improve flexibility and support movement.
– Lean forward against a wall with one knee straight and the heel on the ground. Place the other leg in front, with the knee bent. To stretch the calf muscles and the heel cord, push your hips toward the wall in a controlled fashion. Hold the position for 10 seconds and relax. Repeat this exercise 20 times for each foot. A strong pull in the calf should be felt during the stretch.
• Step-ups: A step-up is an exercise that strengthens quadriceps. The quadriceps muscles in the thigh help support the knee joint.
– Start by standing in front of an eight to 10 inch tall step or riser. Step the right foot up onto the stair and then lift your body up, balancing with the left leg off the step behind you. Next, step your left leg down first and continue down with the right. Try now on the other side, stepping your left foot onto the stair and lifting the right leg off the ground behind you. Repeat each side for about 10 repetitions.
• Hamstring Stretch: Hamstring stretches reduce tightness in the back of legs, help with preventing joint pain and also reduce injuries.
– Lie on the floor with both legs bent. Lift one leg off of the floor and bring the knee toward your chest. Clasp your hands behind your thigh below your knee. Straighten your leg and then pull it gently toward your head, until you feel a stretch. If you have difficulty clasping your hands behind your leg, loop a towel around your thigh. Grasp the ends of the towel and pull your leg toward you. Hold this position for 30 to 60 seconds. Repeat with the opposite leg.
Living with joint pain caused by being overweight can be very challenging. Remember that starting an exercise program to achieve your goals in the New Year will require proper preparation and support by those around you (including your doctor). Start slow and steady to engage in a safe and effective approach and over time as you get stronger, you can increase the duration and number of strength exercise repetitions. Ultimately, taking steps to improve over-all fitness can provide joint protection and reduce irreversible long-term health risks.
To schedule your appointment, please call Orthopedic Associates of Southwest Florida at 239-768-2272, or ask your physician for a referral.
Edward R. Dupay, Jr, DO
Dr. Dupay graduated from Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. He received his Doctor of Osteopathy at the University of Health Sciences, College of Osteopathic Medicine in Kansas City, Missouri.
Dr. Dupay completed his Internship and Orthopedic Surgery Residency at Flint Osteopathic Hospital in Flint, Michigan. Dr. Dupay has been in the Fort Myers / Cape Coral area since 1987. Dr. Dupay enjoys seeing the “Weekend Warrior” athlete, as well as all patients suffering from crippling osteoarthritis.
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