Whether you enjoy playing tennis or golf, mountain biking or running, healthy joints are an essential component of your physical fitness. Joint maintenance is extremely important for preventing the onset of joint pathologies such as Osteoarthritis (OA) and for allowing you to continue to participate in whatever you love to do.

Osteoarthritis is the most prevalent joint disease, affecting an estimated 40 million Americans. The disease is characterized by the degeneration of cartilage and bone and most commonly affects men and women over 65 in the hands, spine, hips and knees.

Factors associated with an increased risk of developing osteoarthritis include repetitive joint impact combined with twisting, obesity, serious musculoskeletal injuries, smoking and repetitive occupational activities such as kneeling, squatting and heavy lifting.

Degenerative joint diseases such as OA are not curable, but their progress and onset can often be delayed with proper treatment and activity modifications. Much research has been done recently on the dietary supplements glucosamine and chondroitin and their effect on joint cartilage. The evidence for the efficacy of either supplement is conflicting. While some studies show that glucosamine and chondroitin can decrease pain and functional limitations in those with OA, other studies show no difference when compared to placebo treatments. The most recent studies show that 1500 mg of crystalline glucosamine sulfate daily in three doses of 500 mg is the most effective dosage and must be taken long term to decrease OA symptoms. However, taking these will not change OA’s disease process. While the potential adverse effects of glucosamine are generally minimal and mild, it is still recommended that interested patients consult their physician before taking the supplements to avoid any health complications.

The American Association of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) does not recommend either supplement. The AAOS focuses their recommendations for joint health on reducing excess body weight, low impact aerobic exercises, flexibility and range of motion exercises, quadriceps strengthening and taping to decrease pain and pressure. Here at Therapeutic Associates, our physical therapists are uniquely trained to implement these recommendations in order to reduce unnecessary joint damage and promote a healthy pain-free lifestyle.

Those of you who enjoy primarily high intensity exercise are not relegated to joint pain and degeneration. While high impact and intensity forces are not ideal, often corrections in faulty mechanics and muscle imbalances can alleviate stresses and re-distribute forces throughout the body. Physical therapists are movement specialists capable of identifying and correcting these problems to add longevity to your joints. Physical therapists can design programs to implement the strategies listed above and progress their patients safely in order to get them back on the links, courts, mountains, or wherever it is you want to be.

The success of physical therapy is enhanced by patient commitment and collaboration. Once your pain has subsided, you will still need to continue to be mindful of what you have learned and participate in your home exercise program. A 2012 study on physical therapy outcomes showed a significant decrease in patients’ pain levels when they continued their home exercise programs independently 4 times a week as opposed to those who did it 2 times or less. Your physical therapist will design a program that is efficient and individualized in order to maximize your health and prevent future injury.

It is often possible to significantly decrease the degeneration of your joints with simple changes. Listen to your body, and if you need assistance, we are here to help!