You probably don’t spend much time thinking about your skeletal system until something goes wrong. A twisted knee. A fractured wrist. A sprained ankle. A sore back. The thing is, when your bones, joints, ligaments and other skeletal structures start to go, it triggers a chain reaction that begins with less exercise and movement and ends with muscle and bone loss, decreased activity, social isolation, depression and a host of chronic maladies that can significantly affect your quality of life.
Here are some facts from the United States Bone and Joint Initiative:
- Nearly half the U.S. adult population is affected by some sort musculoskeletal disorder.
- Treatment and lost wages associated with these conditions cost the U.S. economy more than $900 billion from 2004 to 2006.
- Less than 2 percent of the National Institutes of Health’s annual budget goes toward research in this area.
Healthcare professionals agree: It’s time to raise awareness—and that’s the reason behind Bone and Joint Health National Awareness Week (Oct. 12 -20).
Christiana Care Health System is marking the event with programs designed to educate the community on how to better understand, treat and prevent the occurrence of musculoskeletal problems.
A Matter of Balance (Wednesdays through Nov. 5) shows participants how to avoid falls and increase physical activity.
All the Right Moves (Oct. 23) Dr. Eric M. Russell of the department of rheumatology will discuss the management and treatment of arthritis.
Move Freely without Pain (Oct. 28) Dr. Leo Raissis, medical director of Christiana Care’s Center for Advanced Joint Replacement and Center physicians will conduct a seminar on how to keep knees and hip healthy.
Scientists have long assumed that aging causes a slow but inexorable deterioration of the skeletal system and its ability to function. But a study published last month in the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons reports that the decline is more the result of our sedentary lifestyles.
Dr. Brian J. Galinat, chair of Christiana Care Health System’s department of orthopedic surgery, agrees. “I think it’s a natural consequence of our society’s mentality of inertia. One of the goals of Christiana Care Health System is to keep people active, healthy and moving so they don’t need our services,” he says. “It’s one of the few industries that wants to put itself out of business.”
We can’t replace bone mass or cartilage that’s already lost but there are several common-sense steps you can take to slow or prevent problems with muscles, joints and bones.
- Maintain a healthy weight. You’ve probably heard: Delawareans could stand to lose a few pounds. We’ve come in as the third-heftiest state in the U.S. and that extra baggage is putting a lot of stress on our joints. Losing just one pound would take four pounds of stress off knee joints, according to WebMD.
- Get regular exercise. Exercise can help maintain strength, balance and flexibility. Ideally, you should vary your routine to include low- or no-impact activities (walking, swimming, cycling), strength training (lifting weights or household items) and stretching/relaxation exercises (yoga, Pilates). “But the No. 1 goal is to find something you like that you can fit into your schedule and do it,” says Galinat.
- Remember your muscles. Weight training strengthens muscles and ligaments surrounding joints, protecting them from damage. But be realistic about what you can achieve. The ability to add muscle slows with age and overtaxing muscles, joints and tendons can cause them to fail, says Galinat.
- Take care of small injuries. Even minor injuries can cause damage that worsens with time. RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) remains the best remedy for those minor sprains and unlucky twists and turns.
- Sit up straight. Good posture not only makes you look better, it strengthens and protects joints and muscles from your neck to your knees. And a strong core is what allows us to move our arms and legs to their fullest capacity, says Galinat.
- Eat beneficial foods. Studies show the omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon and tuna not only alleviates the pain of osteoarthritis, they can also reduce the inflammation that causes some of the pain. In addition, diets containing the right amount of vitamin D and calcium are also important for postmenopausal women and men over 65. While everyone is encouraged to take a supplement, the best way to get calcium and vitamin D is through food. Good sources of calcium include broccoli, dairy, dried figs and kale. Foods high in vitamin D include salmon, mushrooms, eggs, dairy alternatives and fortified cereals.