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Dr Duncan

Protecting your joints

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Thank God for our joints! If we didn’t have them we’d be like the trees in a park - totally immobile with just perhaps a bit of a bend when the winds and the gales of life buffet us. We’d still have our senses but we’d be unable to feed or dress ourselves. No more exploring, no more experimenting and much less excitement!

Thanks to our joints we are mobile, flexible and are able to maintain our independence, which means that we should not just be aware of our joints but we should also do our utmost to look after them too. Joints vary in size from the tiny, like the little ones inside our ears that help us to hear, to the very large, such as the ball and socket hip joints that allow us to walk, skip and jump!

So here are a few thoughts about how we can protect some of our more important joints and reduce the chances of developing painful arthritis in later life. However, we do have to remember that although we often think of arthritis as a wear and tear type disease, some people are more prone to develop it if there is a family history of the disease, and some people get it even when they look after their joints and have no family history either. The moral of this tale is that although we know a great deal about arthritis, there is still a great more to be discovered!

Our brain is mission control where everything that happens in our body is monitored and acted upon. It is also home to our five senses, and is connected to the rest of the body by a highly mobile series of bones called the cervical spine or neck.  If you look at the back of the neck of most forty-somethings, you will notice a crease in the skin near where the neck meets the chest. This marks the lower one or two joints in the cervical spine and is the most common site where we hinge with our necks. Moving on a couple of decades, if you were to x-ray this area in 50 or 60-year-olds, you will almost certainly find that the discs in these lower two joints are markedly worn and may be starting to put pressure on the nearby nerves. So from an early age, don’t just rely on your neck when you look up, try bending back with your upper chest so you vary the point of hinging and put less stress on those important neck joints. Losing neck mobility has a big impact on the quality of life! Having nerve root pain as a result of disc disease in the neck just makes life horrible!

Shoulders are next. They allow us to manipulate our hands in just about any direction, which is fantastic, but the shoulder joint itself isn’t the most stable of structures and is one of the joints most liable to dislocation. Contact sports result in many different types of shoulder injury and if they are not managed correctly can lead to premature arthritis of the joint and loss of function. Try putting on a sock with one hand, or buttoning up a blouse, simple things in life suddenly become very exasperating! So if you enjoy contact sports, make sure your shoulders are well prepared, and when injured, take it seriously and get it treated by an expert.

Moving on down we come to the lower back which is the other major hinging site in our bodies, and also one where things (e.g. discs) do get worn out and cause problems. I believe that everyone should be taught at school the basics of good back care management:

1. Correct lifting
2. How to strengthen the core stabilizers of the back with simple exercises
3. Good posture, which is essential if the spine is to function at its mechanical best.

The hips support the load of our upper body and carry it around all day. If you carry a heavy load (if you are overweight or obese) you are more likely to wear out the weight bearing surfaces in your hips and develop arthritis. So just try to carry the burdens you need to and get rid of the unnecessary kilos.

Knees are another joint that, although intrinsically stable, if injured and not treated properly can lead to early arthritis and premature knee replacement. And although a knee replacement is a marvel of modern medical engineering, metal knees are not normal knees and never will be.

Feet are complex creatures with lots of joints, but if you don’t care for them they can affect the rest of your body. Painful feet will affect your whole life, so wear good fitting shoes. And a plea here to the fashion conscious ladies who wear towering stilettos: please be aware of the stresses you are putting on your feet and ankles and the long term damage that those heels may cause. Your feet deserve better treatment than that!

Love your joints, take time to thank them and they will work like a dream. Abuse and ignore them and your later life could turn into a nightmare.


Article written by Dr. Duncan Jefferson. For more articles by Dr. Duncan, click here. For more information on healthcare and private health cover, visit HBF Insurance at hbf.com.au.

The content of these articles is not tailored for any particular individual's circumstances. The author does not take into account your physical condition, medical history or any medication you may be taking. Any advice or information provided by the author cannot replace the advice of your health care professional. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent those of HBF unless clearly indicated.

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