Strong joints keep you active, which can help you maintain your health as you age
Ensure your joints are in prime condition with diet and exercise
If you need to treat joint issues, look for a reputable orthopedic center
As you get older, you may develop new sensations in your joints, whether it’s a tightness in the hips or a popping sound in your knee while you are using the stairs. Those kinds of changes are often normal. However, they can serve as a reminder about the importance of joint health as we age, not just in terms of preventive care, but also for finding a top-notch facility if you do need to look into treatment or hip or knee replacement.
“Staying active is important not just for your musculoskeletal health but also for your health in general,” says Kevin Khajavi, MD, Chief of the Orthopedic Department at St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton, California. “People who are able to exercise and be active have better cardiovascular stamina, lower risk of diabetes, increased lung function and less risk of obesity. Exercise is also crucial for muscle tone, flexibility and balance.”
The best thing people can do for overall joint health is to keep their muscles as strong as possible, Dr. Khajavi says. “As I tell my patients, their muscles are shock absorbers for their joints. The weaker the muscles, the more pressure that puts on their joints...which can often lead to pain with activities”.
To increase muscle tone, Dr. Khajavi recommends low-impact exercises such as swimming, cycling, walking and elliptical trainers. “Those exercises do a great job of not only working on strength but also improving cardiovascular function. More importantly, they avoid the pounding that running or jumping might put on knees and hips,” he says.
It’s also important to maintain a healthy weight, as too many extra pounds can exert excessive pressure on joints. “Patients who are obese typically will experience increased joint pain, so maintaining a healthy diet will help reduce weight and indirectly minimize joint discomfort.”
As you age, you should keep up with regular visits with your primary care physician. “Sometimes a medical issue that is preventative can lead to more significant problems down the line if not treated,” Dr. Khajavi says. “If you can address those, you can better maintain your health and stay more active, and that will help your musculoskeletal health as well.”
But say those aches are something more, such as a joint pain that doesn’t go away after a few days. “If the pain is chronic and persistent, perhaps due to an injury, then it’s time to come in and see a doctor. Or if the pain has gotten to the point where it limits your function and you’re no longer able to do the things that you enjoy, that’s another reason to go in for an evaluation,” says Dr. Khajavi.
If you visit an orthopedic doctor, he or she can run tests to determine if there is a problem that needs further attention. “That might mean physical therapy to work on strength, or medication to treat inflammation of the joint,” Dr. Khajavi says. “Sometimes if there is a more significant problem such as a tear or advanced arthritic changes, there are surgical options that can get you back on your feet. But non-operative options are typically indicated as a first line of treatment for most patients.”
If surgery becomes the only option, it’s important to find a reputable, top-quality orthopedic center where the physicians have a great deal of expertise in the field, says Andrew Yun, MD, medical director of Joint Replacement Services at Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. Saint John’s is one of three Providence St. Joseph Health facilities — as well as Hoag Orthopedic Institute and Swedish Medical Center — recently named among the 17 top hip and knee surgery hospitals in America by the publication Orthopedics This Week (paywall).
“You want to look for a comprehensive facility with a highly trained staff that focuses on all aspects of the patient experience,” Dr. Yun says. “Of course, that includes the actual surgery, but it also encompasses pre- and post-operative care.”
Dr. Khajavi agrees. St. Jude Medical Center is one of just 62 U.S. hospitals to receive the prestigious Advanced Certification from The Joint Commission for total hip and knee replacement. The hospital has streamlined its protocols for joint replacement to ensure optimal care at all stages of the procedure. That includes preoperative physical therapy to strengthen muscles, classes to fully prepare patients for surgery and a goal to have patients up and moving around shortly after the procedure.
“We tell patients we want to have them completely optimized at the time of surgery so that they can have a great result,” Dr. Khajavi says. “Because of the tremendous work our team has put into our state-of-the-art protocols, our patients are seeing a significant improvement in their outcomes. That means our patients become mobile sooner, their complication rates are lower and their satisfaction rates are at the highest levels.”
For more information about joint replacement, talk with a physician at one of these locations, or find a Providence St. Joseph Health location near you: