These Old Bones
Most people over 60 have osteoarthritis (OA) somewhere in their joints - knees, hips, hands, shoulders, feet. If they’ve had a trauma, like surgery, or over-used a joint, like tennis players, it’s guaranteed.
OA is due to the wearing away of articular cartilage, a translucent layer at the end of your that looks and feels like hard plastic. This cartilage allows the bones to slide smoothly against one another in your joints. You aren’t aware it is wearing away because it has no blood supply or nerves.
OA usually develops slowly. You might feel dull pain and stiffness after using a certain joint complex. It might be hard to pin down exactly where the pain is coming from. You might not even notice it much until you are laying in bed.
Over time the pain become more persistent. The pain indicates that the subchondral layer of bone is exposed. This layer does have a blood supply and nerve endings, so articular cartilage does not grow back.
Unfortunately, there is no permanent fix for OA, although there are plenty of temporary or surgical ones, many of little value, like these for hip and knee arthritis. Note the cautions regarding popping pills.
Due to the pain with OA, your first instinct is to stop using the joint where the pain resides, but this just leads to atrophy of the muscles and connective tissues around the joint which over the long term just makes the OA accelerate.
What’s helpful and slows the progress of OA is to flex and strengthen the joint(s) where the pain resides. The more you can preserve the overall integrity of the joint, the longer you can escape radical solutions like surgical replacements.
What’s important when exercising a joint with OA is:
- To minimize the time the joint is under high loads. Do repetitions with less resistance.
- To not flex the joint to the extreme end range of its motion. For example, if you have OA in a knee, do not flex (bend) it less than 100 degrees. If you are doing a squat, stop with the knee only slightly bent (before your thigh is parallel to the floor).
- To stop the activity that has caused the overuse OA in the first place. if you have OA in your right elbow from playing a game, learn to use your other one.
- To develop overall body strength, flexibility and muscle balance so that you maintain the best bone alignment possible in your joints.
The saying “You gotta be tough to grow old” is especially true when it comes to our bones. Think of exercise as tough love.