Osteoarthritis is usually reversible. Joints can easily be kept healthy and flexible. However, this won’t happen automatically. Certain exercises are needed. These are simple and not particularly strenuous.
This is the second in our exercise series and is dedicated to joint health. Joint health should come first. Indeed other exercises will not be very effective if impaired by joint issues. Surprisingly, properly maintained, joints will last a lifetime. Otherwise, osteoarthritis may develop and destroy the joint. This was discussed in a recent post.
If you are a non-exerciser, this is a good place to start. Modest effort should yield noticeable results fairly quickly. If you already exercise, make sure you can do everything described in this section.
After six to eight weeks of these exercises you should have full joint range, with no, or at worst, substantially less pain than when you started.
How Joints Work
Cartilage is the shiny hard material seen at the end of a chicken bone. In a working joint, it rubs against the cartilage of another bone. Sometimes there is a pad between them. The joint is enclosed in a pouch and lubricated with a slippery fluid. In spite of the lubrication and hardness, cartilage would soon wear out except for one detail: it’s alive. There are living cells embedded in it that continually manufacture new cartilage. However, unlike all other cell types, the cartilage cells do not have a blood supply. The nutrients are instead found in the lubricating fluid. The cells comprising the pouch both make the lubricating fluid and generate the nutrients for the cartilage cells.
You will have healthy cartilage forever if you do two things:
- Spread the nutrient-containing fluid all over the joint frequently. No partial range of motion exercises. An example of the effects of fixed range of motion damage is the index finger of someone who writes longhand a great deal. The joints of this finger are far worse than those of the other fingers. Imagine the gripped, locked distal and proximal finger joints held in this position for hours at a time.
- Compress the joint, by putting pressure on it, so that the nutrients get down into the cartilage.
If you don’t do this, the cells in the cartilage starve and won’t make new cartilage. The old wears out, and can potentially wear through to the bone, a very undesirable situation.
To spread the nutrients all over the joints, run them through their full range of motion frequently, or as fully as you can. To get the fluid down into the cartilage, make the joint do some work. Put some pressure on it.
Now it is crucial to note: You have to do this. Unlike a lot of other things, the body doesn’t automatically take care of getting nutrients to the cartilage. It’s simple and fast, but absolutely necessary that you take the time and trouble. Properly maintained in this way, joints will last a lifetime and a half. The only exceptions would be those damaged in some way, or overly stressed from substantial obesity and limited range of motion work; they happen to go together.
Let’s Get Started
The knees are usually everyone’s weak link, so start by seeing how far you can squat. Ideally you can get your fanny almost all the way to the floor with no pain. If you can squat this deeply and come back up with no pain, you can probably skip the rest of this post. Just remember to frequently run your joint under full range of motion, while employing some mild weight or resistance.
If you do not have full range knee motion, here is a procedure to fix it. Start standing. Give your pain level a number from 0 to 10, where 0 is no pain at all, and 10 is excruciating. Whatever your number is, make a mental note of it as your baseline number.
Keeping this baseline number in mind, and starting from a standing position, no weight, squat as far as you can with no additional pain, then go a bit farther so that it hurts just a little (more). How much is “just a little”? About two “clicks” more than your baseline number. If 3 were your baseline pain, squat to about a level 5. Remember that spot and squat to that same position 10 times. Rest a bit, then do two more sets of these. What you have just done is lubricate and nourish your cartilage in areas where it was starving. It will immediately start building new, fresh cartilage.
The next day, your knees should hurt a bit and again the next day. If they already hurt when you began the exercise, they should hurt a bit more. The third day, they should be back to normal; your starting baseline. Don’t repeat this exercise until the knees are back to normal. If it took more than two days to return to normal, you went at it too hard. Wait till the additional pain has subsided then start anew, but this time go for a lesser amount of pain. If, on the other hand, there was no additional pain the next day, or it only lasted a day, you need to press a bit harder and increase the range—range is key.
When you reach a point of full range, with no pain, and no (increased) pain the next day, add some weight. Use dumbbells or a barbell. Start light, continuing with the same procedure. Again, seek full range before adding weight.
Why all this elaborate pain business? Over three decades, Dr. Mike has tried various combinations of pain and recovery in order to fix joints. The above method has proven the fastest. Expect things to start happening quickly. There should be a noticeable improvement in a couple of weeks. Keep this up until you have gotten full range with no pain at all. You don’t get to stop, but at this point you have reached an important milestone, your knee joints are in top shape. Remember, the joints won’t take care of themselves. You have to lubricate and nourish them with full range motion, and squeeze that nourishment into the cartilage by putting pressure on the joint.
Any other joints can be repaired the same way. Remember to go two notches above your baseline pain. Two notches is the level needed for the three day recovery.
Can’t Joints Be Beyond a Point of No Return?
Possibly. You should get medical advice. However even a severely damaged joint can often be brought back from the abyss. Consider Dr. Mike’s own experience: “I damaged my right knee due to a mountain climbing accident about 30 years ago. Over time the pain was getting worse and, though I knew better, I was not employing my own full range of motion rule. About 3 years ago an MRI reported ‘severe tri-compartmental osteoarthritis, with areas of NO cartilage, and a large tear in the middle of the thinly remaining medial meniscus.’ Knee replacement or exercise? I opted to give the latter a chance even in this severe case. After all, what did I have to lose at this point? So far, the exercises allow me completely pain free walking and hill sprinting. I also have full range, but with some pain, though less than before. Will I wind up with a “new’ knee”? Maybe, maybe not.” Worth a try.
What About Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, and is not a degenerative disease. A specialist is mandatory here as there are many effective treatments. However, once stabilized, the above “repair and maintenance” exercises would be equally important.
The next post in this series with cover exercises targeted at neural development, balance, and coordination.