Education, activity can positively impact joint health

September 26, 2023
Movement is medicine. When experiencing joint pain, there are non-surgical and surgical steps that can be taken to alleviate pain. Photo: Getty Images.
Movement is medicine. When experiencing joint pain, both non-surgical and surgical steps can be taken to alleviate pain. Photo: Getty Images.

If hip and knee pain is preventing you from doing the activities you love, health care experts want you to know that they have a variety of ways to impact your joint health and get you back on the slopes, track, course or court.

“I tell my patients, ‘The day you stop moving is the day you start dying,’” said Dr. William “Bobby” Howarth, an orthopedic surgeon in Steamboat Springs and a member of the medical staff at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. “It really propagates a downfall in their life, and we don’t want that. What we want is to keep our patients moving and active.”

One of the first ailments may be joint pain or inflammation, commonly referred to as arthritis. Although there are many types of arthritis with a variety of causes, the most prevalent is osteoarthritis, which can occur in many of the body’s joints. Symptoms usually include limited range of motion, stiffness, pain and swelling of joints.

While hip and knee pain is most prevalent in people 50 and over, joint pain can occur at any age and be influenced by factors such as lifestyle, genetics, sudden trauma or forceful impact, and athletic history. Joint pain and the need for surgery also can occur from a single accident or just years of wear and tear.

There are a number of components within joints. Cartilage is the firm, flexible tissue that protects joints and bones and allows the knees and elbows to bend. A tendon is the tissue that connects muscle to bones, and ligaments are the tissue that attaches bone to bone.

“You’re born with a certain amount of cartilage, and you can have pain at any point in your life because of a lack of cartilage,” he said. “Your joints need to move to stay healthy, which is a major goal of ours for patients.”

Next steps for painful joints

When experiencing joint pain, there are non-surgical and surgical steps that can be taken.

“If you are having pain, mention it to your primary care physician at your annual physical or upcoming visit,” said Howarth. “Typically, an X-ray will be completed, and if it shows joint damage, a referral can be made to an orthopedic surgeon for further evaluation.”

Howarth said a number of things may then take place. Additional tests, such as an MRI, may be ordered, an anti-inflammatory medication may be suggested or prescribed, and physical therapy, as well as a brace, may provide some temporary relief.

“We don’t want people to put off getting help because they’re afraid we’re going to jump right into surgery as a first option,” he said. “That’s not the case. We’re going to explore many other steps before we might suggest that.’’

Still, for patients who have exhausted other methods and are in constant pain, Howarth advises against living with discomfort for too long as it can lead to inactivity and loss of mobility and strength.

“I see many patients who have waited longer than they should have because they thought they were too young to get a joint replacement,” he said.

If surgery is recommended, the entire procedure time can be less than two hours, with patients up, walking and climbing stairs later the same day. It involves minimal tissue damage and limited narcotic use for pain during recovery.

Keep moving, stay healthy

To prolong the health of joints, Howarth recommends people:

  • Stay active.
  • Engage in stretching exercises such as yoga and Pilates.
  • Participate in low-impact exercises including walking, cycling, swimming and gardening.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Build strong muscles.
  • Listen to your body.
  • Eat healthy and add nutritional supplements to your diet.

“Hiking, skiing and biking are part of our culture here in Steamboat,” said Howarth said. “Patients stay young by staying active – that’s what we want to help achieve for then.”

This story first appeared in the Steamboat Pilot.

About the author

Mary Gay Broderick is a Denver-based freelance writer with more than 25 years experience in journalism, marketing, public relations and communications. She enjoys telling compelling stories about healthcare, especially the dedicated UCHealth professionals and the people whose lives they transform. She enjoys skiing, hiking, biking and traveling, along with baking (mostly) successful desserts for her husband and three daughters.