If you’re worried about wear and tear in your hips or knees, you’re not alone.
Wear and tear (or degenerative joint disease – DJD) in these joints is one of the most common sources of pain and disability for Australians.
It’s a common perception that DJD is caused by aging, but this really isn’t true.
If that were the case, then DJD would be spread evenly throughout your body as you age and would be experienced in the same way by the same age people.
This doesn’t happen. While age does play a role in giving you time for the process of degeneration to occur, it does not CAUSE the degeneration.
The good news is, much of the DJD that people experience can be prevented, or at least have progression of the disease slowed. If you concentrate on the CAUSES of DJD, then you can impact its progression.
DJD is mostly caused by improper motion of the joints over long periods of time. So all you need to do is create better motion.
The 5 things to do:
#1. Increase motion where it has been lost
Hips and knees that are wearing out tend to be ‘stiffer’ or have lost motion in one or more directions.
One of the most common problems with hips is the loss of extension, or the ability to move your leg backwards. The best stretch you can do for this is a lunge.
Holding a lunge position stretches the muscles and joints of the hip, allowing better extension motion. Do this for 30 seconds twice each side, twice a day will help keep your hips moving.
For the knees, simply stretch the knees in both fully bent and straightened positions, holding for 30 seconds, twice through. Recovering this motion can help keep the knees mobile and prevent or reduce degeneration.
As with any exercise, mild discomfort is OK, but stop is the exercise is very painful to do or creates lasting pain.
#2. Build strength and stability
Weak or poorly coordinated muscles contribute to poor joint control, leading to DJD. Being strong in your day to day movement helps prevent this damage.
Working on your ‘core’ muscles can help to keep your pelvis and lower back stable as the powerful leg muscles exert force.
You can also ‘practice’ basic movements that make up part of your day to day activities. One of the best movements you can practice on a daily basis is the squat.
Stand with your feet hip width apart and slowly squat until your thighs are parallel.
Some tips to keep correct movement:
- Move your backside first – it moves backward to keep your spine curved and your weight upright.
- Sit down to a chair – just touch your bottom to the chair and then up again – to make you feel safer.
- Watch yourself in the mirror to see that you are upright and not bending off to the side. You want to practice good, not poor movement.
#3. Walk more!
Walking is a beautiful movement that takes almost every joint in your body through a healthy range of motion. It’s cheap, easy to do and has added benefits of improved mental and social wellbeing, especially if you do it with a friend or family member. As you walk, focus on making your stride both even and long. People with hip problems tend to shorten their stride to avoid pain. This creates a cycle of pain, reduced motion, more damage and more pain.
#4. Get up regularly
Sitting is the new smoking, they say. Modern workplaces tend to have us chained to the computer for long hours without moving. This is toxic from a musculoskeletal point of view. Sitting with hips and knees flexed for long periods contributes to the lack of motion that causes DJD.
Get up every half hour, even if it’s just for a quick stretch or to grab a glass of water. Doing something different will rest tissues under strain, exercise muscles, encourage circulation and help your spine and nervous system work better also.
#5. Create better control.
To do a good job of controlling your musculo-skeletal system, your brain needs to be fully aware of all the loads, angles, joint positions and muscle length and tension for every millisecond of movement.
This is called ‘proprioception’, or position sense. Your nervous system does this naturally as part of its job of controlling, coordinating and regulating every single cell and organ in the body.
Spinal misalignment can alter proprioception, leading to errors in control. This can be measured with tests as simple as a balance test.
When your body’s proprioception is out of whack, muscles and joints are no longer being controlled properly. This can contribute to DJD, as joints not being controlled properly will experience greater loads that those controlled properly.
How do you create better control? Removing interference to the nervous system will reduce the impairment to your position sense. One of the most common sources of interference to the nervous system is spinal misalignment.
hen spinal bones no longer move through their normal range of motion, input of sensory information and output of motor information becomes scrambled, leading to poor control of the joints. Correcting spinal misalignment can improve joint position sense.
If you can do these five things, you’ll have much less chance of developing DJD in your hips and knees. If you already have damage in these areas, you can often improve their condition and slow the process of degeneration, recovering function so that you move and feel better.
If you have hip or knee degeneration and you’re not sure what to do about it, please call us on (02) 6257 9400.
If you would like some more information about the spine and nervous system and how it relates to your health, please check out the other articles on our Facebook page or go to our website: www.spinecentre.com.au.
Also, make sure you read the other interesting articles we have posted on hip and knee pain this month.