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September 2002 Issue
What's a joint like that doing in a lady like you?
by Michael Fick
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Exercise makes an astounding difference in preserving joint and muscle health, but cannot completely overcome the effects of age on muscles, tendons, ligaments, and cartilage. Old bodies may need more warming up and stretching than young ones, but then they can still cut loose and play hard. Many of those stiff, doddering elderly people we see every day hobbling down the street have done that to their joints and muscles by lack of exercise, and can fortunately reverse those effects, even by functional decades, if they get motivated enough to exercise.

Joint degradation cripples more slowly than trauma, but just as effectively. All our joints are susceptible to osteoarthritis (OA) -- degradation of the cartilage that cushion and separate the bones that meet at that joint. When the cartilage wears away to allow bone-on-bone contact, the pain is severe and debilitating. OA is very often preceded, thus probably exacerbated and maybe even triggered, by an old injury at that site. Surprisingly enough, the primary preventative and "cure" for OA is usually more exercise. Besides keeping the joint lubricated, nourished, and strong, it also keeps the remaining cartilage pliable and more resistant to impact than cartilage hardened by disuse.

There might be such a thing as too much exercise in some extreme cases, but few people simply wear out a healthy joint. The bigger threats to joints and muscles come from over-intense weekend bursts, pain dismissal, high-impact sports such as running and football, obesity, and even simple hazards like high heels and platform shoes. It's tough to wear out a healthy joint that's uninjured and properly used and cared for, and they need exercise to remain healthy.

Most of the over-the-counter remedies that claim to prevent and/or heal OA are unproven. MSM has not been proven effective or safe; glucosamine/chondroitin shows some promise but its major clinical trial results are not expected until Mar 05; and DMSO has been proven hazardous to animals (that's us!).

The primary joint-degrading disease is rheumatoid arthritis. Its pain and ultimate deformation shut the affected joints down temporarily, then permanently. Three primary lines of defense against RA include antibiotics, immunosuppressants, and omega 3 essential fatty acids (see the August 2002 column). It's often caused by mycoplasma (a bacteria) infection, which may be completely cured if diagnosed and treated with antibiotics (primarily minocycline) early enough to prevent joint damage. If an individual case of RA is truly due to immune system hyperactivity (we should demand analysis and proof of the cause of any rheumatoid arthritis we come down with), aggressive treatment - usually immunosuppressants and maybe steroids - must begin before irreversible damage occurs to effect a cure. In either case, eating a better balance of omega 3 and omega 6 oils may mitigate the resulting joint inflammation.

We'll have to end it here with those care and treatment basics, because this topic is huge. The following links provide immediate access to well-organized, easily understood, thorough details on all our joints:

Beyond that, you can query Google on such topics as joint health, or on specific problems such as knee injuries or arthritis. Put on your hip boots first and stick to professional medical sites such as those discussed in the June 2001 column.

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