Joint Custody

They're marvels of anatomical engineering, those parts of your body where bones meet to allow movement. Here's how to protect them while leading an active life.
Joint Custody


If you’re like most people, you enjoy the time of year that allows you to get outside and be active. Brisk physical activity is good for your circulation, muscle tone, mood and longevity too. Unfortunately, spending time playing sports, paddling on the water or even doing chores around the house can put you at an increased risk of injury—especially to your joints.

Specialized orthopedic care can help treat such mishaps when they occur, but you can avoid some injuries altogether by being smart about your activities. BERGEN spoke with Rami Alrabaa, M.D., orthopedic surgeon at Englewood Health, and Anthony Delfico, M.D., orthopedic surgeon and director of sports medicine at The Valley Hospital, about common autumn activities that often lead to orthopedic injuries—and tips for how to protect your joints when you’re…

• Getting your steps in. With its cool and crisp air, fall is an excellent time for running or fast walking, but this beneficial exercise can lead to injury, or trigger pain if joints are already damaged or fragile.
Prevention: If you’re new to running, start slowly and use common sense. To help avoid anterior knee pain, such as patellar tendinitis, begin with a short distance and increase it gradually, advises Dr. Alrabaa. “For example, start with a mile,” he says, “and increase one-quarter mile with every run. Don’t increase more than 50 percent of the last run.” For those not ready to run or jog, Dr. Delfico suggests walking. “If you want to run and are just beginning, start with an easy 30-minute walk. That’s the most efficient way to build stamina for your lungs and joints.” Proper footwear is important, so invest in a pair of good running sneakers.
Treatment: Acute pain from sore muscles and joints will go away on its own with rest and over-the-counter pain medications. Long-term joint damage and arthritis may eventually require joint replacement surgery.

• Volleying and serving. Lower humidity and cooler days also make tennis courts more inviting at this time of year. And with the rise in popularity of pickleball, an increasing number of participants of all ages and skill levels are taking the court. Even if you’re just casually hitting the ball over the net, the repetitive motion can take a toll on joints.
Prevention: Proper stretching and equipment are necessary to safely enjoy racquet sports. Injuries such as tennis elbow can be avoided by stretching forearm muscles before play and by ensuring that racquet handles are long enough and have ample cushioning. Muscle soreness can come through overuse, Dr. Delfico says, so he suggests you “ease into a sport.” “Don’t play for four hours if your body isn’t used to it,” he says. “Sports with sudden bursts of movement can lead to injury, so don’t overextend your body all at once.”
Treatment: Use the RICE method (rest, ice, compression and elevation) to address the inflammation of tennis elbow. “You can treat the area by stretching and with ice and massage,” Dr. Alrabaa says. “It can take up to a month of rest and ice for recovery. If you have any loss of function or mobility of the joint, seek medical attention immediately.”

• Making a splash. High-speed jet skiing and waterskiing aren’t the only water sports that can cause injury; even slow-pace paddling in a canoe or a kayak or on a paddleboard has its risks.
Prevention: Overuse and incorrect paddling motion are common contributors to shoulder pain related to canoeing and kayaking. If you’re just starting out, learn proper form and “take it easy” while on the water so you don’t overextend your shoulders, Dr. Delfico says. And just as with other sports, warm up your body before heading out on the water by simply “rolling your shoulders or flexing your elbows,” Dr. Alrabaa says. “Know your limits, and don’t overexert yourself paddling.”
Treatment: Inflammation of the shoulder joint can be treated with heat or ice and over-the-counter pain medication. See your doctor if pain persists or gets worse more than three days after it was first detected, as it could lead to other ailments such as “frozen shoulder.”

• Cleaning the yard. You may be most susceptible to injuries in your own home, especially if your list of chores requires you to climb ladders or wield heavy power tools. For example, about half a million Americans are treated for ladder-related injuries every year, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Summer and fall are prime times for these accidents, which often occur while repairing roofs or cleaning gutters.
Prevention: “Always make sure a ladder has good footing and is on solid, flat ground,” advises Dr. Delfico. “While you’re up there, don’t overreach, which can impact your shoulder or simply cause you to lose balance.” He adds that staying fit and having a strong core help with balance and can prevent related back injuries caused by simple acts such as picking up roofing material or raking leaves. “Stretching first isn’t just a rule for sports,” adds Dr. Alrabaa; it’s especially important for tasks that may require muscles to accelerate or decelerate quickly (pulling a cord to start a lawn mower or leaf blower, for instance). “Warm up and loosen muscles around the shoulder to decrease strain from explosive movements or heavy lifting.”
Treatment: Minor shoulder pain and back strain require a few days of heat or ice and plenty of rest. A fall off a ladder may result in more serious damage, such as broken bones, that will require medical attention and possible surgery.


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