Joint protection is a proven self-management approach that can be used to prevent falls and injury, as well as help people with arthritis reduce pain and maintain functional mobility.
In honor of Bone and Joint Awareness month, which falls every October, we wanted to find out more about how we can work to protect our joints. We asked Marcy O’Koon, senior director of consumer health at the Arthritis Foundation, five questions to help explain how to integrate joint protection into our daily lives. In addition to being helpful for arthritis sufferers, these tips can be used by athletes, those who have jobs with repetitive tasks and, of course, those who suffer from any type of joint pain, from carpal tunnel to Crohn’s Disease.
Arthritis Foundation (AF): Joint protection helps you learn how to use your joints in the best way possible, protecting them from fatigue and injury. The goal is to make you rethink how you do daily tasks, from opening a jar to exercising.
PP: Are there some basic joint-protection tenets we should follow?
AF: Yes, there are some techniques everyone can use to help prevent injuries and falls and reduce pain. They are:
- Respecting pain – Stop or limit activities before they become painful, particularly those that cause your pain to last more than an hour after the activity has ceased.
- Balancing activity and rest – Don’t wait to become tired before you rest. Instead, take frequent breaks, especially during longer or more intense activities.
- Prioritizing activities – Consider how long an activity will take and how difficult it will be. Plan to do more demanding activities when you feel your best.
- Using larger, stronger joints when possible – One of the best examples of this is to lift with your knees, instead of your back. But you can also use your hip to open doors or rest heavier items on your forearms instead of carrying them in your hands.
PP: Why is it so important to protect the joints?
AF: Joint protection can help prevent injuries, both traumatic injuries, like fractures and ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) tears, and overuse injuries, too. Joint injuries lead to osteoarthritis, or OA, between 20 and 50 percent of the time, so preventing them can help reduce our chances of developing this disease.
[Related: Take the Arthritis Pain Quiz]
PP: In addition to the techniques above, are there other ways to protect the joints?
AF: Joint protection varies by activity. In sports, it consists of wearing proper protective gear and using safety equipment, such as breakaway bases. Training and conditioning is important, too. Overuse is a problem in sports, as well. For example, pitchers have a high risk of shoulder injury from overuse.
Jobs that require repeated kneeling, squatting or even standing can increase the risk of joint damage. Take precautions such as scheduling breaks, using protective gear, like knee pads, and ensuring good body mechanics.
You can avert joint injury in the home by preventing falls, which can mean fractures, which can lead to OA. Survey your home for hazards, like poorly lit entrances and stairways, cords trailing across a walkway and loose rugs.
PP: Are there any tips for particular areas of the body, like the hands or the ankles?
AF: Ankles and hands, wrists and fingers, are common sites of injury. Avoid ankle sprains by watching for step-downs and uneven pavement and surfaces. Avoid heels that are high enough to create ankle instability. Wear comfortable and supportive shoes that are secure to reduce risk of falling and sustaining an ankle or other joint injury.
[Related: Symptoms and Relief of Hand Pain]
Whether your goal is to prevent injury or falls, maintain joint mobility, or reduce pain — or all of the above — try implementing some of these joint protection techniques today. For those interested in learning more, check out the joint protection page at Arthritis.org.
Do you already use any tried-and-true joint protection techniques? Share them with us in the comments. Your experience offers help and hope for our readers.