If you’ve lived long enough on this earth, you know that gravity takes its toll on your joints. Some people feel it every morning when they take their first few steps. Some people feel it every night when they go to bed, and sometimes it even keeps them from sleeping.
Doctors have identified osteoarthritis since the advent of modern X-ray technology, and it is often discovered when someone has pain in a joint.
Maybe you’ve experienced something like this yourself: one day you decided enough is enough. You tried the pills, patches, creams, stretches, exercises, and nothing seems to work on that tired painful joint that has been bothering you for longer than you’d like, so you pick up the phone and call your doctor’s office to be seen. Your doctor orders the X-ray and tells you exactly what you expected, which is that you’ve got something your parents had, and their parents had before them, and so on: Osteoarthritis.
You may get down on yourself, tell yourself the best years are behind you, and you just aren’t as young as you used to be. You may even start modifying your life based on your new diagnosis by reducing your activity.
Not so fast —there’s hope.
We used to think that seeing arthritis on an X-ray meant that your arthritis was the cause of your pain. Not true. Pain is a feature of osteoarthritis, but it is still only one of several factors to make the diagnosis. Now, doctors and researchers have found that many people have all the signs of osteoarthritis, but they have no pain. As a practicing chiropractor, I have found that painless arthritis to be more the rule than the exception. Once the appropriate intervention (manual therapy, adjustment, exercise, stretch, technique change, etc.) is made, the pain goes away.
Indeed, often the cause of the pain in osteoarthritis is some sort of stress on the joint, and often the stress is biomechanical; muscles or surrounding joints are putting undue stress on the arthritic joint. Rarely do I find people with arthritis are “overusing” their joints. More often, they are “misusing” their joints due to lack of movement preparation.
So, what happens when someone is diagnosed with Osteoarthritis and they manage to resolve their pain with physical medicine? Do they no longer have the arthritis? Unfortunately, joints are limited in the amount of reconstruction they can do, so the joint framework is still the same, but the function of the joint has been significantly improved.
Every movement that humans can do requires a certain amount of preparation. To oversimplify: you have to crawl before you can walk, and you have to walk before you can run, and you definitely have to run before you can run a marathon. Joints are the same way, requiring excellent preparation, and sometimes intervention by a professional. As you get older, and the years roll by and miles build up, the usual compensation tricks that your brain used to get you to this point no longer work. This means that you quite literally must outsmart your own brain and find out what (personalized) preparation you need to be doing before doing simple things like going for walks, going up and down stairs, lifting weights, or completing your next Seattle Marathon.
Here are 3 easy movement preparation activities you can do at home:
1.Start exploring your strength and mobility through daily practice of movement. Start small and work your way up. Get a soft fitness mat, and start from the ground up. Can you sit on your ankles? How about sit on your heels? Up for a challenge? Try the Brazilian Longevity Test, which you can find tutorials of on the internet.
2. Explore your muscles with a foam roller. Putting pressure on muscles can help mobilize them, improve their blood flow and reduce tension. It also gives your brain more information about the muscle, so it can use it effectively.
3. Get an assessment done to identify where you may have hidden deficits in your range of motion, daily practice, routine, etc. Even if you’re well versed in the human body, getting older and dealing with arthritis is very difficult for even the best equipped, so enlist support to help you reach your potential.
Dr. Dan Michael is a chiropractic physician at NW Sports Rehab in Madison Park.