We worry about our health, about our heart health, about the chances of getting cancer and increasingly nowadays about getting dementia since we may have seen a relative sliding into Alzheimer's Disease as they aged. Seldom do we worry or do anything about the health of our joints and yet arthritis and other joint disease is at epidemic proportions.
Joints just don't get the attention they deserve even though we use them for every movement of the body. Even sitting still reading this article numerous joints in your rib cage are working as you breath and others in your ribs and arms as you scroll down the screen to read this article.
Joints are places where things happen; they are where 2 bones come together to allow and facilitate movement. When working well they are like well oiled hinges and they bring no attention to them selves. And when afflicted with a disease like arthritis we struggle to move, we push against stiffness and suffer pain as a consequence.
We all have good incentives to do what we can to keep our joints healthy and the good news is that all we do to boost our general health is going to help our joints too
So lets look at some lifestyle choices we can make and then see what part professional treatment can play in the health of our joints
Movement:“use it or lose it”
Never was that saying more truly used than about our joints. When we walk or exercise or do some gardening or housework we not only stretch our muscles we use our joints too and this helps lubricate them, and boost the health of the joints used.
We may need to push hard to strengthen a muscle but gentle movement is all we need to exercise a joint.
When treating patients in my Osteopathy clinic I used to teach a simple routine where we go through all the major joints of the body and perform slow circular movements. Starting with the head and then moving to the shoulders, hips, knees and ankles it takes just 2 or 3 minutes and feels good as you both gently stretch the muscles around the joint and feed “exercise information” to your body and brain.
The movement may be dance, skipping, yoga – whatever pleases you – it does not have to be”exercise” – anything that gets us in motion will do the job.
Joints and muscles are feeding position and speed data to the brain like a satellite or rocket sends back telemetry data to ground control. This is vital to our well being and interrupting this flow of data from our joints deprives the brain of what it needs to function properly just like eating a junk diet deprives the body of minerals and vitamins that it needs to do all its work of healing and detoxing properly.
Diet: “We are what we eat”
The phrase “We are what we eat”, seems to be as old as the hills and is often taken to be a folksy way to nudge us into following advice like “Eat your greens!”. Well the phrase is not just a metaphor it is a literal hard scientific truth. We are made of what we have for breakfast, and lunch and dinner…and whenever else we eat too! And what we drink as well!
When it comes to our health we really do have the power to choose and to make our bones and joints strong and healthy. So what choices are best? The science for the last several decades whether in the shape of The China Study or in any of dozens of other major studies comes back with the advice to eat what the researchers call,”a plant based diet”.
This is not the same as a Vegetarian diet or a Vegan diet though. A diet of so called “Breakfast” Cereals, toast, coffee, Bagels and microwaved ready meals might well be vegan but would be a junk food diet none the less.
I know plenty of Vegetarians whose diet is similar to the above and whose dinner plates are rarely graced with the sight of Broccoli or Kale or other healthy greens. This is their choice of course and in our culture the food we eat is not culturally determined as it is in many countries but is there from individual decisions.
A Plant Based Diet means a wholefood diet, preferably organic, and examples may be found in the Mediterranean Diet and the Diet in rural Japan. In both there is a variety of vegetables, fruit (more so in the Mediterranean diet, which is part of why I think it is better) and small amounts of bread, fish and meat.
From detailed research I've seen I'd advise a vegetarian or vegan version of the Mediterranean diet as the healthiest diet for our joints and for general health too. It has a wide range of plant nutrients including mineral and vitamins; there is plenty of protein and Olives and nuts and seeds provide all the healthy oils we need.
Joint Supplements: “Every little helps”
But what do we do when we get joint disease? The time to change the diet was 5 years ago before we got soreness and pain in and around the joints and your diet will affect your health going into the future but right now what food supplements can we take as extra healthy plant medicines for your joint issues?
Pain usually comes from inflammation in the body so we need to give the body as much anti-inflammatory support from diet and supplements as we can. So after getting meat out of the diet we can add omega 3 oils to it. These are plant oils – the only reason fish oil has omega 3 oils in it is that fish either eat plants with omega 3 oils or eat smaller fish that eat plants! There's no point eating fish and exposing yourself to hazards from mercury pollution and much else besides if all you want is to get a good supply of omega 3 oil.
The richest source of omega 3 oil is flax and the best way to get it is to mix powdered flax seeds into your meals or smoothies. Eating flax seeds is fine but your body cannot get at the oil inside the seeds.
Budgies and other birds can, we can't!
And pouring flax oil on salads is OK if you can be certain that it is fresh and safe but after using flax oil for some years I doubted that it was as fresh as I wanted, so I shifted to using flax seed powder. This is safe and stable for months and has been tested in medical trials and proved effective.
Other anti-inflammatory supplements include vitamin D to boost bone strength and taking enough vitamin C. The latter not only strengthens collagen that gives our bone its strength but also strengthens the tendons and ligaments around the joints. Bones, tendons and ligaments are all made of collagen and all are “powered” by vitamin C. The mineral Silica helps too but vitamin C is primary.
You'll hear a lot about other supplements like glucosamine sulphate and chondroitin but they have a mixed record when put to the test. What is probably happening is that we need sulphur and if we are deficient they can fill that gap. A better way to get sulphur may be to either include onions and garlic in your diet or to use a garlic pill or else supplement with MSM, full name – Methyl Sulphonyl Methane which seems to work rather better.
Treatment: “If it ain't broke don't fix it”
This phrase is used a lot by engineers but it fits in with the Hippocratic rule of “First do no harm”. That implies that treatment by an Osteopath or Chiropractor should be minimal and gentle and treatment from Surgeons avoided if at all possible.
The first line of treatment is to gently move the joint and find out where there is pain or limitation. As much as is reasonable the joint needs to be moved around its normal arc and doing so will help drain the area of any inflammatory build up and bring fresh blood to the area to help heal the pain and or damage.
A massage around the joint is extremely helpful because it relaxes the muscles around the joint and reduces pressure and again helps circulation. Using a good oil will relax the muscles and I routinely use Olive oil – slightly warmed up but any oil will help relax muscles and take pressure off the joint.
The best oil by far is Castor Oil. It should only be used on the skin and for Castor Oil Packs and never taken by mouth. But massaging the oil on is easy and can be and should be done for as long as needed. Using a Castor Oil pack is good advice but does involve quite a time and much good can be had just by directly rubbing the oil on the skin above and below the joint.
Other ways to encourage relaxation is to use the minerals Magnesium and Potassium. Any good supplement will do but the absolute best is to use the Celloids range of minerals by Blackmores called PPMP.
By all logic PPMP should not be anything like as effective as it is but it is the nearest to a “Cure all” that I have ever found and is superb to help pain, muscular spasm and anxiety amongst many other issues.
Some healing technologies can be used as well. Cold laser can be very useful in dealing with hard to get at lesions. Ultrasound may play a role as well. Used as part of a holistic approach any non-invasive therapy can be helpful. Overall the strategy to work on Joints is to restore normal function and movement with anti-inflammatory diet, supplements and gentle hands on treatments.
Used appropriately these tactics can heal just about any joint problem whether the cause is arthritis, gout or accidents. And if a particular joint is stubbornly refusing to heal then some extra diagnosis is needed to find out if a nutritional or other factor is involved.
Trace mineral analysis may provide the needed info or “Muscle Testing” by a Qualified Kinesiologist may be needed to hunt down the confounding issue.
The body does heal itself but needs us to do some extra detective work sometimes. To get some details on the kind of diet recommended in the research on plant based diets the The China Study CookBook may be helpful.
Feel free to share your experience of joint problems below or on my Facebook page.