Warmer weather is upon on us (finally) and we don’t know about you, but we are definitely ready for patio brunches with friends, sunny days at the park and lazy days spent lounging by the pool with a good book. While spring often brings relaxation and rejuvenation, it also serves as the perfect time to bring renewed life back into your exercise programs. Whether you are an avid runner, Sunday morning walker or enjoy embarrassing yourself on the golf course from time to time, it’s important to remember that healthy joints and muscles make for happy, healthy bodies.
You shouldn’t have to let joint and muscle pain hold you back from doing what you love this season. To ensure you are able get the most out of the nice weather and your fitness programs, we talked with our experienced orthopedic physicians about the best approach to protecting your joints while being active.
Warm up and cool down
A light warm up that includes motions that mimic the exercise you are about to perform will get your blood flowing, warm-up the muscles you are about to train and even help improve your range of motion and overall performance. Just as important as a healthy warm up, a post workout cool down with static stretching incorporated will safely get your body back down to a resting state and improve your muscle resiliency and flexibility. If you are experiencing some joint or muscle pain during your exercise, you can gradually decrease your workout intensity to reduce pain and discomfort, then follow-through with a cool down.
Wear the right shoes
Regardless of the activity, the shoes you wear can really make a difference in the health of your joints, especially if you participate in high-impact sports or are a regular runner. Old, worn out shoes cause abnormal stresses on weight-bearing joints, so if you are very active, you will want to replace your shoes at least once per year to protect your leg joints. Your foot arch and strike pattern, whether it’s overpronation, underpronation or neutral, will affect the type of shoe that best suits your foot. You can talk to a podiatrist to analyze your gait pattern and get the perfect shoe for whatever task at hand.
Increase muscle strength and flexibility
Increasing muscle strength and overall flexibility not only helps to maintain your weight, which takes added stress off your joints in general, but it also helps you avoid strains and other injuries that are more likely to occur with weak muscles. Strength training increases your muscles’ strength, size, power and endurance and usually involves using your body weight or working against a resistance.
Examples of muscle-strengthening activities include:
- Lifting weights
- Working with resistance bands
- Resistance biking or walking
- Exercises that use your own body weight (push-ups, squats, lunges, burpees etc.)
- Dance or Zumba
Flexibility exercises help improve the ability of a joint’s full range of motion throughout strenuous activities.
Examples of flexibility activities include:
- Tai chi
Get your nutrition in check
Fight inflammation with food! A diet that incorporates anti-inflammatory foods is shown to improve energy levels and decrease joint pain and overall inflammation in the body. After a good workout session, try to avoid foods that make inflammation in your already tired joints and muscles worse. Limit your intake of processed foods, trans-fats and added sugars in favor of foods with omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, chia seeds, soybeans and walnuts. Fresh fruits and vegetables are also loaded with antioxidants that counteract damage and protect healthy cells.
Best foods to combat delayed onset muscle soreness:
- Blueberries, cherries and other dark fruits
- Cod, salmon and other fish
- Almonds, Brazil nuts, walnuts and other nuts
- Fermented foods such as yogurt, dairy and pickled veggies
- Turmeric and ginger
- MORE WATER!
Water plays a role in both muscle repair and growth. When you exercise, particularly if the exercise is very strenuous, you might experience minor muscle injuries or tears. To fix these injuries, your body needs water to synthesize protein, which is the building block of muscle. If you are dehydrated, your body may even begin to break down muscle tissue, which can undermine your fitness goals and make your muscles weaker. Additionally, dehydration slows the delivery of nutrients to your muscles, which slows muscle growth and can even cause pain and injuries. Be sure to drink enough water throughout your activity and afterwards to avoid unnecessary pain or injury.
Balance low and high impact exercise
High-impact sports and exercises are great for burning calories and activating fast-twitch muscle fibers. However, too much impact can cause stress and potential damage to muscles and joints, so it is extremely important to give your body a chance to recover. Incorporating a good balance of low-impact exercises with your impact activities will give your joints ample time to recover while also helping strengthen the muscles surrounding your joints. Look for exercises that minimize and help prevent joint pain like treadmill walking, swimming, stationary cycling, elliptical and rowing machines. All are examples of low-impact cardio that will provide continued muscle strengthening while minimizing stress on the leg joints.
Don’t overdo it
There’s something to be said about being re-motivated and ready to hit the ground running (literally), but it’s important not to be overzealous. Your joints and muscles need tender care, so for their sake, listen to your body and know when to take it easy. If you hit the gym too hard, over train, or work your muscles and joints in ways they’re not intended to go, they will rebel and you will regret it. Be mindful about your movement and never push past joint or muscle pain. Remember to progress gradually into a new activity program. If you feel pain during your normal exercise routine, take a day or two off until it subsides.
Already injured? Brace yourself
Chronic joint pain and acute injuries can be debilitating and discouraging, especially when it comes to staying active and healthy. If you are suffering from joint pain or an injury but still want to stay active, be sure to modify your exercise routine to a safer less strenuous activity and consider getting a brace to better protect the joint in question. There are athletic braces for nearly every joint in the body, with the most popular being for knees, ankles, wrists, elbows and shoulders. Compression sleeves and braces can help keep the joint warm, reduce swelling and provide support during your activity.
If you keep these tips in mind this spring as you gear up for league soccer or before you hit the pavement to log some miles, your muscles and joints will surely thank you. If you are suffering from chronic pain or a more complicated injury, come talk to our renowned orthopedic and sports medicine specialists at the UT Health Austin Musculoskeletal Institute. You can call 1-833-UT-CARES (1-833-882-2737) or click here to make an appointment.