Taking Action for Your Bone and Joint Health

Each year, Bone and Joint Action Week takes place October 12th through the 20th. It’s a week focused on raising awareness about prevention, treatment and management of bone and joint conditions, and highlighting why bone and joint health is important.  

Taking care of our bone and joint health keeps us mobile, making all the other areas of our lives easier—whether that’s doing activities we enjoy, playing with our kids and grandkids or just getting around more easily and staying comfortable. 

“The more we are able to stay active and engage in activities or exercise that we enjoy,” says Nasser Ayyad, D.O., assistant professor of clinical rehabilitation medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, “the better off we’ll be in terms of our overall health and our joint and bone health.”  

Common Causes of Bone and Joint Pain 

Bone and joint pain happens for many reasons—it could be caused by injury, it could be a symptom of certain diseases or it could even be due to allergic reactions. 

Common bone and joint conditions include: 

  • Acute injuries: Injuries to the joint, including fractures and repetitive stress conditions such as bursitis or tendonitis, are common causes of joint pain. Even if your injury occurred many years ago, perhaps while playing a sport or being in an automobile accident, it can be the culprit for joint pain down the line.  
  • Lupus: This autoimmune disease can affect the bones and joints, and can even cause arthritis.  
  • Gout: This condition, caused by high levels of uric acid, typically affects one joint—most often a toe, the ankle or another joint in the foot. Its most common symptoms are sudden pain and swelling, most often at night.  
  • Arthritis: This condition is hallmarked by inflammation or swelling in one or more joints. While there are more than 100 different kinds of arthritis, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are the most common forms.  

The condition that Dr. Ayyad sees most often in his practice is osteoarthritis, a condition that affects more than 32 million Americans each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

“Osteoarthritis is by far the most common type of arthritis,” Dr. Ayyad says. “It can damage almost any joint. I would say the top three are the hands, hips and knees.” 

While osteoarthritis was once considered a wear and tear disease, where the cartilage in a given joint wore down over time, it is now considered joint failure. The entire joint is being affected and gradually becoming weaker—this includes connective tissue, the joint lining and sometimes even the capsule—and the processes that maintain joint health begin to break down over time and become overwhelmed by low-grade inflammation. This inflammation is what deteriorates the joint. 

Certain conditions, like diabetes, can raise your risk for osteoarthritis. Jobs that require manual labor also increase risk, as do lifestyle factors such as weight and diet. However, developing osteoarthritis isn’t something everyone is going to face—it only significantly affects 10% to 20% of the population—and there are ways you can limit its impact on your life. 

Steps You Can Take Now to Reduce Pain Later 

“The first thing that we can do is remember that motion is lotion throughout life,” Dr. Ayyad says. “The way to help prevent joint problems is by staying active.” 

A study looking at runners found that moderate runners (those who run 10 to 15 miles per week, as opposed to a higher amount of 20 to 30) had a decreased incidence of developing knee arthritis later in life when compared to people who are primarily sedentary. 

“That doesn’t mean if you’re not a runner you have to start running tomorrow to decrease your chance of developing knee arthritis,” Dr. Ayyad says. “The key is to stay active, and even having a walking routine of 30 to 45 minutes a day is going to decrease your chance of developing knee and joint problems down the line.” 

Other ways Dr. Ayyad recommends to prevent problems down the line include: 

  • Maintaining a healthy weight: Carrying extra weight puts more stress on your joints—particularly the hips and knees, which Dr. Ayyad notes are some of the joints most often affected by osteoarthritis.  
  • Limiting foods that stoke inflammation: This doesn’t mean not enjoying your favorite foods, it just means ensuring that the majority of your diet is made up of food other than red or processed meats. Dr. Ayyad recommends incorporating inflammation-reducing foods like berries, leafy greens, salmon and olive oil. 

Available Treatments for Bone and Joint Pain 

Fortunately, a wide range of options are available to address bone and joint pain, including more conservative preventive measures and treatment that addresses the pain itself. 

“Once we develop joint pain, I would say the first thing we need to do is try to determine provoking factors, and if there are certain activities that are provoking us to have more inflammation and more pain, we need to modify those,” Dr. Ayyad says. “For example, if you’re a runner or you’ve spent a lot of time on your feet maybe you move to the pool for more exercise, or you incorporate biking to decrease certain weight-bearing pressure on certain joints.” 

After you’ve modified your activity, further treatment options include: 

  • Topical medications: Anti-inflammatory creams can be used for knees, ankles or hands, though they may not work as well for hips because the hip joint is much deeper. Topical capsaicin is also an option to reduce pain.  
  • Heat and ice: After activity, applying heat or ice to joints for short periods—no longer than about 20 minutes at a time—can reduce both pain and inflammation.  
  • Oral pain medications: Acetaminophen is often a safe first option to improve pain. NSAIDs are a good option to reduce inflammation, but check with your physician before taking them as they are not an option for everyone—you shouldn’t use them if you have a history of stomach ulcers, heart disease or kidney problems.  
  • Physical therapy: Working with a physical therapist is almost always beneficial to people with bone or joint pain. PT can provide exercises to strengthen the muscles around the affected joint. For example, people with knee pain can find relief from strengthening their quadricep and calf muscles—which often reduces knee pain over the long term. 

Stay on top of your bone and joint health by taking your concerns to your orthopedic specialist. Need an orthopedic specialist? Find one today here.