Showing up for your workout can be hard enough, so the last thing you need is something to deter you once you actually get moving! Unfortunately, many people experience joint pain—in their hips or knees, for example—that make working out painful. When you experience pain during exercise, it suddenly becomes more tempting to call it quits and commit to a day on the couch instead. But don’t give up! While there are many causes of joint pain, there are also plenty of ways to keep it from affecting your workout. Let’s explore some common causes of joint pain and then delve into 9 ways to prevent joint pain during your next workout.
Causes of Joint Pain During Exercise
While this list is certainly not definitive, here are four of the most likely reasons you may be experiencing joint pain during your workouts.
Arthritis refers to inflammation of the joints. There are more than 100 different types of arthritis, ranging from autoimmune (rheumatoid arthritis) to wear and tear with age (osteoarthritis). People can have arthritis in one or multiple joints, and it causes pain to the affected areas. For a long time, people thought arthritis sufferers should avoid exercise out of fear it would damage their joints. Now, medical professionals know that many arthritis sufferers can actually improve their condition with exercise. If you experience joint pain as you age, it’s likely caused by a form of arthritis.
Like arthritis, tendonitis is also caused by inflammation. However, while arthritis refers to inflammation of the tissues that line the joints themselves, tendonitis is inflammation of the tendons, the tissues that connect the bones and the joints. Tendonitis is more common in a specific area from overuse; for example, runners often get Achilles tendinitis (along their heel) or patellar tendonitis around their kneecap. While it doesn’t directly affect the joint, it can certainly cause pain in the joint.
Injury or Surgery
If you’ve injured your joints or recently had hip or shoulder surgery, for example, your pain during exercise may not be a surprise. In the case of specific injuries or post-operative care, it’s best to consult with your doctor to see if physical therapy is necessary before resuming an exercise regimen.
Carrying a few extra pounds isn’t likely to cause joint pain, but if you are truly overweight, the extra baggage could be putting undue strain on your joints. By losing some of the weight, you should be able to alleviate your joint pain. Studies have shown that losing as little as 11 pounds cuts the risk of osteoarthritis of the knee in half.
A word of caution: if you have mild joint pain during your workout, it’s okay to work through it. Movement helps re-lubricate painful joints that have become stiff due to arthritis or other causes. But if you experience sharp, severe pain in a specific joint during your workout, stop and ask your doctor before continuing an exercise regimen, as it could be a sign of joint damage that needs rehabilitation.
9 Tips To Prevent Joint Pain During Exercise
So now you know what’s causing your joint pain—but what can you do to keep it at bay? Making a few simple changes can transform your workout from painful to powerful. Use these 9 tips to prevent joint pain during exercise.
1. Warm Up!
Skipping your warm up is a bad choice for many reasons, one of them being that exercising with stiff muscles exacerbates join pain, too. Focus on a total body warm up that will loosen up your muscles and prepare your body to move! We like to say a warm up should act as a “dress rehearsal” for your workout: a mini version for the activity you’ll be doing. If you’re going for a run, walk for a few minutes to warm up. If you’ll be weight lifting, do some bodyweight moves like squats or march in place just to get your blood flowing. And always include movements that wake up your ball and socket joints, like hip circles and arm circles. If you want a great dynamic warm up that will prep you for most workouts, we’ve got a great one at the end of this blog.
2. Foam Roll
Foam rolling helps your fascia, which is the connective tissue running through your body that surrounds and separates your muscles, joints, and organs. Fascia helps cushion your joints from impact; so when it’s tight or brittle (as it can become with age) your joints and muscles can suffer. By performing what’s called myofascial release with a foam roller, you are bringing more fluid back into the fascia, helping your joints stay cushioned and thus pain-free during exercise. Foam rollers are affordable and easy to use; aim to foam roll about three times a week to reduce your joint pain. Here are 6 foam roller moves to loosen tight muscles to help you get started.
While warming up before a workout is crucial, it’s equally important to stretch out all the major muscle groups after you’re finished. Hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds, breathing into it and feeling your muscles relax a little deeper with every exhale. When your muscles are tight, you decrease the range of motion within your joints, leading to additional pain during your workout. If you can loosen your muscles post-workout, you’ll have happy joints ready to go for your next sweat session.
4. Use Heat
Get in the habit of heating things up before your workouts. Unlike new injuries that respond well to ice, heat is best for treating chronic pain. The heat helps increase blood flow and soothe tight or painful joints. Apply a warm towel or hot pack to areas that are stiff and sore before your workout to minimize discomfort.
5. Adopt an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Researchers have identified that many foods found in the Mediterranean diet can help combat inflammation, which is a major cause of arthritis-related joint pain. Staples of the Mediterranean diet include fish like salmon, tuna, and sardines; antioxidant-rich fruits and veggies like berries, spinach, and kale; and monounsaturated fat sources like almonds, avocados, and olive oil. You may also try incorporating more turmeric into your diet as it’s an anti-inflammatory spice that has been shown to improve joint swelling and stiffness in arthritis patients. Some people also take glucosamine and chondroitin supplements to help their joint pain; these are both structural components of cartilage that are naturally occurring in the body.
7. Break Up Your Workouts To Reduce Strain
We’ve said before that it’s not necessary to train specific muscle groups together (any way you get ‘er done is good!). But for people with joint pain, it may be beneficial to adopt a certain methodology to your movement: if you’re doing a bodyweight workout or weight training, for example, don’t run through a circuit that’s just upper or lower body for too long. Alternate back and forth between upper and lower body exercises to avoid putting too much stress on any one area at a time For example, some people choose to do “arm day” and “leg day” but for people with joint pain, it’s better to break your workouts up so you’re not straining any one part. Do a set of push-ups, then focus on squats, etc.
7. Try Aquatic Workouts
Sometimes switching up your workout routine can be the best thing you do for your joints. Taking your workouts to the pool can give your joints some much-needed relief, while still providing resistance that gives you a great workout. Swim laps, check out water aerobics, or try this 30-minute pool workout for inspiration.
8. Get The Proper Footwear
Everything in your body is connected, and regardless of the activity you’re doing, if your shoes don’t provide enough stability and cushion against the impact of your movement, your joints can suffer! Everything from ankle, knee, and hip pain can be aggravated or even caused by improper footwear. Use this guide to find the best show for any workout.
9. Incorporate Both Low and High Impact Exercise
If you suffer from joint pain, too much high impact exercise can aggravate your body. But incorporating a little of it when you can is great for weight loss and making your muscles stronger. Balance your workout routine with some higher impact work like plyometrics, interval training, or running, and then lower-impact cardio work like elliptical workouts, walking, swimming, or cycling. The variety will help keep your body healthy and your muscles engaged without getting overworked.