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Want Healthy Joints and Cartilage? Make Sure You’re Doing These 8 Things

Cartilage naturally breaks down as you age, but taking the right steps could help keep your joints pain-free.

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What is cartilage?

Cartilage is a flexible connective tissue in your body. Three main types exist: hyaline, elastic, and fibrous, according to the International Cartilage Regeneration and Joint Preservation Society. Hyaline cartilage is found in the joints and it acts as a cushion and shock absorber. If you want to keep that cartilage in good shape and do your best to avoid osteoarthritis, here’s the plan you should follow.

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Stay at a healthy weight

Excess bodyweight puts extra pressure on your cartilage. In fact, being just ten pounds overweight can increase the force on your knees between 20 and 30 pounds with every step, says Dominic King, DO, medical orthopaedic physician at Cleveland Clinic Sports Health Center. “By keeping your weight down, you’re keeping the appropriate amount of weight that your knees are designed to handle,” he says. Not only that, but excess weight—especially around the belly—creates inflammation that stresses the cartilage, says Jason Theodosakis, MD, board-certified physician and author of The Arthritis Cure. You may want to try some of these weight-loss tricks.

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Start a Mediterranean diet

Claims about superfoods that can stop inflammation make sense for digestive-related inflammation like celiac disease. But there haven’t been enough large studies to prove anti-inflammatory foods will help your cartilage, says Dr. King. Any eating plan that keeps you at a healthy weight will help, though, he says. Dr. Theodosakis recommends a Mediterranean diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats. Even if its anti-inflammatory effects don’t directly strengthen your cartilage, it can protect against heart disease, dementia, depression, and more. “The Mediterranean diet isn’t a fad diet—it’s a broad diet with lots of evidence for helping many other conditions besides just arthritis,” says Dr. Theodosakis. “It’s a good basis for a diet and something people can do their whole lives.”

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Adjust your family’s meal plans

Meals are bonding opportunities, so it can be hard to stay away from unhealthy foods if your family keeps trying to feed you delicious but fattening family recipes. After you visit a nutritionist to learn your food needs, bring your family on board with your new eating plan, suggests Dr. King. “If you’re looking at losing weight, it’s helpful for the whole family to help with that,” he says. “If you’re doing it on your own, it’s really hard.” Find out the best ways to help your partner lose weight.

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Try a supplement

The supplements glucosamine and chondroitin seem to help some people with osteoporosis pain, according a study review published in the Journal of Orthopaedic Surgery and Research. Both substances are found in cartilage, which explains why you’ll often find them sold in the same supplement. While long-term studies haven’t shown that either can slow down cartilage breakdown, says Dr. King, they’re safe and many patients find the combo can ease stiffness and swelling. “If you find something that helps you 5 percent, all we need is to find other things that also help a little,” says Dr. King. “Together, as you move forward, they’re a great part of your plan.” (Don’t miss these other home remedies for arthritis.)

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Sip more water

“The most overlooked supplement is water,” says Dr. King. Between 65 and 80 percent of your cartilage weight is water, which gives it the ability to compress. By staying well hydrated, you can boost the liquid in your cartilage and help them take the impact of your weight as you move, says Dr. King.

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Prioritize exercise

Low-impact exercises like swimming, biking, walking, and lifting weights won’t just keep your weight down, but they’ll also help your cartilage. Using a cyclical motion with biking or deep-water jogging can stimulate your cartilage if you do 60 to 90 cycles per minute, says Dr. Theodosakis. “It sends signals to the cartilage cells to make more cartilage,” he says. He recommends asking a specialist like a physical therapist for sports medicine doctor to help design a program that’s right for you.

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Get instruction before starting an activity

Cartilage injuries can cause permanent damage that leads to arthritis. Prevention is key, so have a trainer teach you the correct form when you’re starting a new sport. “Acute injuries are often from a person’s form not being ideal,” says Dr. Theodosakis. By getting lessons, though, you can lower your risk of cartilage damage, he says. Don’t forget to prioritize this muscle that could save your joints.

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Don’t try to jump right back in the game

If you do have an injury, giving yourself the proper recovery time is vital to preventing further damage. “A joint is nine times more likely to be reinjured than to be injured in the first place,” says Dr. Theodosakis. “You shouldn’t be jumping back into the activity when you’re still hurting.” Anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen might make the symptoms feel better, but hold off if you can. Swelling and pain are signals that your body needs to fix itself, so those medications can hinder your healing, says Dr. King. Start by resting and elevating your knee, and using a compressive knee sleeve before you reach for the medicine cabinet. If the pain still lasts for several days, see a doctor, he says. Next, check out the everyday movements that wreck your joints.

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