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Health Information Protect Your Joints Through Life's Ups and Downs

Understanding how your joints work can help you keep them healthy and strong.

Most of us use just two words, standing up, to describe that common motion. But Karen Gustafson, MD, can fill a paragraph.

"First your feet hit the ground," says Gustafson, a primary care sports medicine specialist at Rush. "Then the motion works its way up through your ankles; your knees and hips activate to straighten your legs. You're using your core muscles and, if you're tired, you might put your hand on your seat to help push yourself up, using your wrists, elbows and shoulders. It's a kinetic chain."

Joints are key links in this chain of movement, which travels up and down our bodies every time we sit, reach, step or make virtually any other motion. Under the wrong conditions, some common motions can strain these important links, putting our joints at risk of injury.

But by taking the right precautions you can avoid such problems. Here, Gustafson offers the following advice on how to protect your joints through everyday ups and downs.

Don't jump in too fast. The ups and downs of high-impact exercise — such as running stairs or activities that involve jumping — can lead to injury if done without proper preparation.

"Some people get tendonitis of the knee because they don't realize how taxing these kinds of activities will be," Gustafson says.

But with time, you can adjust. To reduce the risk of injuring your knees, start slowly and gradually increase the length, and then the intensity, of your workouts.

Control the number on the scale. If you are carrying excess weight, normal ups and downs such as taking the stairs or getting up from a chair can be stressful for your joints, leading to tendonitis, arthritis and other conditions.

"Every extra pound of weight on your body is like five extra pounds of force on your knee," Gustafson explains. "So if you're 20 pounds overweight, it's like an extra 100 pounds coming down on your knee each time you go down a step."

The solution? Consult your doctor and, if necessary, work to make the number on your scale go down — or at least keep it from going up.

Use proper lifting technique. The shoulder joint is largely supported by muscles — which tend to be less protective than, for example, the bones and ligaments that support the ankle. That makes it particularly important to protect your shoulder joints when picking up heavy objects.

Just as you can protect your back by lifting with your leg muscles, you can shield your shoulders by lifting with your arms close to your body and your elbows bent.

Lifting with straight arms can strain your shoulder muscles and even lead to a rotator cuff injury.

"Whether you're lifting something or moving up and down yourself, understanding your joints' mechanics can help you avoid overstressing them," Gustafson says.

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Please note: All physicians featured in Discover Rush Online are on the medical faculty of Rush University Medical Center. Some of the physicians featured are in private practice and, as independent practitioners, are not agents or employees of Rush University Medical Center.

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February 2014

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