They bend and straighten and move and groove, but how do we help our joints improve?
When we think about the joints in the body, the knees, elbows and fingers, and toes may be the first that comes to mind. Frankly, it is usually the most recent injury of the joint that garners your focused attention. But, there are 250-350 joints in the human body. Some joints connect bones without a movable action, some allow minimal movement, and others allow a full range of mobility. Joint health depends on proper alignment, the strength of the muscles around the joint, and flexibility within the joint. This section will focus on alignment and muscle strength. Moving within your proper alignment means knowing how each joint is structured to function. There is a reason that the elbow and knees do not bend backward! Let’s begin by looking at healthy joint movements.
When we are younger, our body movements seem automatic and fluid, partly because young joints have space to allow for bone growth. We bend, twist, and extend into as many positions as our young minds can conjure. However, aging tendons, ligaments, and muscles become less flexible. Rigor mortis tries to set in long before our death. Healthy movement is conscious of the bend, twist, and extension as individual movements rather than an all-at-once movement. For spinal flexion (forward bend), it helps to contract your core (stomach muscles) to support the anterior (front) of the spine before any movement. Hopeful Healing exercise class teaches to growl (GGGGRRRRRRR!!!!!) to engage this protection. To safely pick something up from the floor, stabilize the spine (growl), flex forward (bend), then rotate (twist). Conscious movement can protect against spinal fracture as well as disc injury. Moving in alignment allows our muscles to do their job!
Strong muscles around the joints will support alignment, hold the bones from colliding, and prevent injury. Strengthening the joints is done with the most subtle of movements. At the beginning of a knee bend, the muscles around the joint are most active. As the knee bend deepens, the thigh, hamstring, calf, and shin become more engaged to hold the weight from the body. To focus on joint strength, keep the movements small from start to finish. Keep your squats high and ankles under your knees. A neat trick to protect the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) is to pull your toes towards the sky while keeping the balls of your feet planted.
Joint health is something not noticed until we are out of whack. Knee injuries are the most frequent causing an estimated 2.5 million visits to the emergency room yearly. One in 3,500 people will experience an ACL injury this year.
Stay away from that statistic by being aware of your joint health. Understand healthy alignment and movement in your body. Notice weaknesses and increase strength to prevent injuries. Join a Hopeful Healing class to reach your highest health potential.