older woman with joint painMany people may take flexibility for granted but, as we age, factors like bone loss and decreased muscle mass can take a toll on our joints.

Adults, particularly seniors, should prioritize joint health to decrease fall risk and potential injuries, such as fractures and broken bones that can permanently alter quality of life.

Understanding Your Joints

Joints are the tissue that connect bones and help the body to move. There are three types:

  • Cartilaginous: Supported by cartilage and offering a moderate degree of movement.
  • Fibrous: Bones are joined by fibrous connective tissue, not designed to move.
  • Synovial: A special layer of cells that lines the joint capsule and produces fluid to reduce friction.

Age and activity can place wear and tear on your joints, diminishing cartilage, causing chronic inflammation and resulting in further breakdown. Without proper treatment, the cartilage can disappear completely, causing the bones to rub against each other. Conditions like bone spurs and osteoarthritis accelerate this pattern, as can weight gain and hormonal changes during menopause.

As such, joint health for seniors involves protecting the cartilage, bone and muscles to reduce discomfort, injury risks and slowing degeneration.

Conditions Affecting Joint Health

Certain conditions can affect the quality and movement of aging joints, including:

  • Osteoporosis: Bone lose mass, becoming more porous, weak and increasing the risk of fracture. Women, those who are petite or very thin, who smoke, are not physically active or have a family history of the condition are at higher risk.
  • Osteoarthritis: This most common form of arthritis in older adults can cause physical limitations. Osteoarthritis affects the cartilage until the bones rub against each other. People often experience mild joint pain, which becomes more severe with time.

Living with these conditions, seniors have a greater risk for:

  • Broken bones
  • Fall-related injuries
  • Weakened muscles
  • Slower reflexes

Taking Care of Your Joints

As an older adult, consider the following steps to address and maintain joint health:

  • Get Regular Exercise: Aerobic exercises, such as walking, running and biking, help decrease joint swelling and assist with weight control. Weightlifting also helps to strengthen the muscles, so they can better support the joints, and stretching can improve and maintain good range of motion.
  • Focus on Nutrition: Vitamin D and calcium directly impact bone and joint health, so it’s important to include these nutrients in your diet. Also think about hydration, as a lack of water can eventually affect joint composition.
  • Watch Your Weight: Carrying extra pounds can place undue strain on the knees, hips, back and their respective joints. Yet being underweight is not ideal either, as your body lacks the muscle strength to support your joints. Keep your body mass index in the healthy range, rather than trying to lose as much weight as possible.
  • See the Doctor Regularly: During these visits, bone and joint pain can be addressed, particularly if it continues to worsen or impact mobility. Your doctor will likely provide an exercise routine and diet to specifically target joint health.
  • Stop Smoking: In regards to joint health, smoking contributes to inflammation across your body, which can affect injury recovery. As inflammation directly impacts the joints, seniors are encouraged to give up this habit to preserve their cartilage.
  • Work on Posture: Poor posture places additional strain on the spinal and cervical joints. Sitting up straight and keeping your posture aligned can reduce the load these joints bear and may help to lessen subsequent pain.

West Hartford Health & Rehabilitation Center can help address joint-related issues through short-term rehabilitation and medical and nursing services for seniors. To learn more about our facility, contact us today.