Joint pain refers to discomfort, aches and soreness in any of the body’s joints and is a common problem among many active adult exercisers. While some people automatically think of arthritis when it comes to joint pain, there are many conditions and factors that can contribute to achy joints – such as overuse, weak muscles, tight muscles, lack of mobility, being over-weight and pregnancy.
For those who regularly battle joint pain, it can be quite frustrating when it comes to working out. On one hand, you want may want to do some of the things you love and have always done like running, lifting, participate in a certain sport, etc.. On the other hand, you know how painful it can be to do these activities and part of you wants to shut down.
While you may have been able to get away with simply going to the gym in your younger years and jumping right into a workout with little concern of joint pain, you may be feeling the effects of that as you hit your 30s, 40s and beyond. For many who now deal with daily joint pain, it may seem a whole lot easier to skip your workouts all together than have to deal with achy knees, backs, or shoulders.
The key, as most of you I’m sure already know, is to find a way to get those workouts in. Research shows that regular exercise helps in the reduction of inflammation associated with joint pain and can even increase your pain tolerance. Regular exercise will also strengthen the muscles around joints while also increasing the blood flow, both of which can minimize the discomfort of joint pain.
But while we all know that exercise is good, breaking through the “it’s going to hurt” battle is the tough part for many people. The thought of exercising when your knees sound like someone stepping on potato chips is not very appealing. But, by making a few simple changes to your workout routine, you can find a nice balance between a pain-free workout and one that leaves you dreading your next trip to the gym.
Here are 6 joint-friendly tips you can incorporate to make your workouts much less painful.
I’m always amazed at how many people skip the warm-up and jump right into their workouts. While it may not seem to matter much when you’re in your 20’s, it will eventually catch-up to you. Joints will hurt more when muscles and tendons are tight and not properly warmed-up prior to activity. And, as we age, joint mobility and muscle flexibility decline, making a thorough warm-up all that more important. Warm-ups don’t have to be overly complicated….focus on setting aside 5-10 minutes of light movement to get the blood flowing and the muscles warm.
#2 Foam Roll
Hard-pressed foam rollers have become a staple in gyms everywhere and for a good reason – they are an awesome tool for digging into the muscles (self-massage) and getting the body ready to move. By simply focusing on some key areas, you can minimize joint discomfort by using your own body weight and the pressure from the roller to increase blood flow and warm-up the muscles surrounding your joints. Pay particular attention to your calves, quads, hip flexors, glutes, and thoracic spine when rolling and you’ll notice a huge difference in how your body moves and feels during your workouts. Foam rolling is also a great post-workout activity as well as any time in between when your muscles are stiff/achy and need a little love.
#3 Mix-Up Your Workouts
While adding variety to your workouts is key in avoiding overuse injuries, burn-out and boredom, it’s also vital if you suffer from any achy joints. Muscles are involved in the control and function of joints, so if they’re weak from overuse, your joints will pay the price. Try mixing-up the high impact activities like running with something a little more joint-friendly such as biking, swimming, or yoga.
#4 Find The Best Cardio For You
Some people get stuck in the mindset that they need to do a certain type of activity – such as running – when it comes to getting their cardio workouts in. The problem for some runners, however, is that their body hates running! There are many different ways to get in low impact cardio workout, for many it’s just a matter of finding something they enjoy and can stick with. Cardio activities ranked by the least to most impact are swimming, recumbent bike, upright bike, elliptical, treadmill and outdoor running. Also, consider getting your cardio work in the weight room. By taking little to no rest between strength sets you’ll find your heart rate elevated in no time!
#5 Add Yoga and Mobility to Your Routine
Yoga and other mobility focused workouts are a no-brainer for those suffering from chronic joint pain. These workouts will focus on joint mobility, stability and muscle flexibility, all of which create balance around joints. They’re also a great recovery tool in helping your muscles repair and recover.
#6 Hit The Water
Even if you can’t swim a lick, working out in water can be a game-changer for many people suffering from joint pain. The buoyancy of the water results in less body weight on the joints, making it an ideal low impact exercise option. Water also provides natural resistance, so you can still build strength to help solidify those muscles surrounding an achy joint.
About the writer: Ken Grall is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and owns and operates an Edge Fitness in Madison, Wisconsin. Learn more about Ken.