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In the normal activities of daily living such as walking, running, or climbing stairs, any part of the joint can be injured or damaged. The ability of the joint to withstand the various stress and strains of normal and sporting activities depend on the health of the components of the joint.

 

Aches and pain in the joints are common maladies of daily living. In the older per son, there is a natural process of ageing where the cartilage breaks down and the collagen in the meniscus, ligaments degenerat es. As a result, a minor injury in an older person can lead to serious damage to the cartilage, meniscus and ligaments. Many strong ligaments surround the joint capsule of the knee to reinforce its structure and hold its bones in the proper alignment together with the surrounding muscles, enabling the knee to move and function normally.

The ends of each bone in the knee are covered with a layer of hyaline cartilage that gives them a smooth surface and protects the underlying bone from damage. Between the bones is a figure-eight-shaped layer of tough, rubbery fibrocartilage called the meniscus. The meniscus acts as a shock absorb er inside the knee to prevent injury to the cartilage during running and jumping.

A joint capsule surrounds the bones of the knee to provide strength and lubrication. The outer layer of the capsule is made of fibrous tissue continuous with the ligaments o f the knee to hold the joint in place. Oily synovial fluid is produced by the synovial membrane that lines the inside of the joint capsule, lubricating the knee to reduce friction and wear

Signs and symptoms of joint injuries

Pain is the first symptom of injury to the joint. In mild cases, it may present only during running or after long walks. As it progresses, the pain become noticeable when standing, getting up from a chair or bed or climbing stairs. There may be swelling and stiffness of the joint, especially in the morning. In patients with meniscus tears, there may be an episode of acute severe pain followed by locking of the knee in some patients where the knee is locked in one position and unable to flex or extend. Meniscus tears occur usually with twisting injuries in sports but can occur more easily in the elderly. 

Prevention of damage to the joints

The force or stress that goes through the knees is 3 times the body weight when we walk and 6 times the body weight when we run. Therefore if a person is 10 kg overweight, and assuming he takes 10,000 steps a day as recommended for a healthy lifestyle, the knee suffers an overload of 30kg x 10,000 each day. When he runs 10,000 steps a day, it becomes 60kg x 10,000each day. An overweight of just 10 kg can produce significant stress and damage to the hip, knee and ankle joints over a year, resulting in cartilage wear and damage.

Hence it would be useful to lose weight and maintain the appropriate weight according to one’s age, sex and height. For those aged 45 to 50 years with knee or hip pain, it is best to do low-impact exercises (walking, swimming, exercising on the elliptical cross trainer or cycling) instead of running, jumping or other high impact aerobics. A proper warm-up and conditioning before strenuous exercises would reduce ligament and meniscus injuries.

Supplements

Supplements can be taken to reinforce the structural integrity of cartilage, meniscus and ligaments and slow down the ageing process. Glucosamine, a precursor component of cartilage is marketed to support the structure and function of joints. Commonly sold forms of glucosamine are glucosamine sulfate, glucosamine hydrochloride, and N-acetyl glucosamine. Accordingly to Wikipedia, of the three commonly available forms of glucosamine, only glucosamine sulfate is given a “likely effective” rating for treating osteoarthritis. Glucosamine is often sold in combination with other supplements such as chondroitin sulfate and methylsulfonyl methane(MSM). Most of the commercially available glucosamine are made from shellfish. Patients with either seafood allergy or have dietary restrictions for health or religious considerations should consider brands that are made from vegetarian origin instead.

Avocado-soybean unsaponifiables, a nutritional supplement consisting of a mixture of avocado and soybean oils, is widely used in Europe to treat knee and hip osteoarthritis. It acts as an anti-inflammatory, and some European studies have shown it may slow down or even prevent joint damage.

 

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