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How to Stop Joint Pain: Part 1

In this two-part series, you'll discover three simple, preventive ways you can stop joint pain. In Part I, you’re going to learn why these joint injuries occur in the first place.

By
Ben Greenfield
6-minute read
Episode #285

In America, getting a joint replacement of the hip carries a hospital “list price” of $13,000, but hospital and surgical charges can run another $65,000 or more (hence the rise in medical tourism like this). I’d be lying if I professed to know the exact additional amount of money spent each year on joint physical therapy, medications, supplements, and other treatments for joint issues, but with as many folks in the general population who I know (including active people, exercise enthusiasts, and weekend warriors) with joint pain, I’d wager it’s a lot!

In this two part series, you’re going to learn why these joint injuries occur in the first place and three simple things you can do about it.

The Poor Problem of Neglected Joints

Often us exercise enthusiasts and active folks tend to prioritize “conditioning” and ignore activities that don’t make us breathe hard or feel the burn. Mobility is possibly the most neglected basic ability in an endurance training program, especially for a high-volume athlete such as an Ironman triathlete or marathoner.

Time and time again I have taught camps, clinics, and seminars during which athletes or exercise enthusiasts who can hammer like animals on the bike all day long or run stone-faced for hours on end or spend ever single morning in the gym simply can’t do something as simple as a full squat with both arms held overhead, or even a proper push-up.

As a result, these seemingly fit folks are predisposed to all of the disadvantages that accompany this lack of basic mobility, including:

-Muscle tightness that creates ugly postural imbalances, such as shoulders rolling forward in a hunchback pattern, hips rocking back (to create that nice skinny-fat beer-belly look), and one side of the body being higher or lower than the other side. This results in leg and arm length discrepancies, not to mention funny looks when you’re wearing a swimsuit, tight clothing, or anything else that reveals your body asymmetries. Aesthetic annoyances aside, these are also huge issues when it comes to injury risk. So you look weird and you get hurt easy. Not fun.

-Soft tissue, muscle, fascia and tendon restrictions such as extremely tight IT bands (on the sides of the thighs), tight and immobile rotator cuffs in the shoulders and restricted neck and upper back muscles. Any of these can make even a young, spry marathoner move like an 80 year old man when doing anything other than jogging. For example, when teaching triathlon clinics, I’ve had groups of triathletes lunge across a room with medicine ball held overhead, and they suddenly looked a lot more like baby deer on ice than like athletes.

-Joint capsule restriction in the knees, hips and shoulders.  Each of your joints are surrounded by a fibrous tissue sac called the joint capsule. This capsule surrounds the joint and is filled with a fluid called synovial fluid that lubricates your tissues and the spaces within this capsule. When the joint capsule is immobile, fluid can build up in the joint and the tissue can’t move properly, meaning you’re predisposed to premature cartilage breakdown in that joint, along with nasty meniscal tears, sharp pains and “catches” in your joints, swelling, inflammation and everything else that simply can’t be permanently fixed with an ice pack, an ibuprofen and a trip to your favorite massage therapist.

-Muscular restrictions and faulty movement patterns. It’s not just your joints that get restricted. Since your muscles themselves are comprised of fiber and are surrounded by a spider-webbish sheath called fascia, immobility in this soft tissue can also cause some serious movement deficits. This includes shoulder blade (scapular) and middle back (thoracic) immobility that leads to shoulder pain while swimming, hip extension immobility that leads to lower back pain on the bike and hip flexor immobility that leads to calf pain and inner thigh pain on the run. Yes, that means that you can address propensity for Achilles tendonitis or plantar fascitiis by simply standing up every hour from your desk and stretching tight hip flexors or foam rolling tight quads.

-Overworking of muscles. When a joint is immobile, the  joint above or below that immobile joint is forced to take up the slack or significantly assist with a motion it’s really not suited for. Just picture the common scenario of a runner’s or cyclist’s knee doing weird sideways movements instead of hinging forwards and backwards. This happens because an immobile hip is stuck in constant external rotation, and as a result, most of the hinging must be accomplished by either the knee joint or the low back joint. This places undue and unnatural strain on these areas. Of course, an unsuspecting athlete might simply try fixing the knee or fixing the low back, without ever actually rescuing the hip from that external rotation.

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All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.