How and Why – Look After Your Joints

This page has been written for you to give you the knowledge you need to look after your joints. This is to prevent damage and/or deformity from occurring or progressing during the activities you perform each day.

Arthritis is a disease in which you have a lot of control over how the disease progresses. It is not a disease where it is best to “soldier on regardless” or “work through the pain” as that can cause a lot of damage.  However, this does not mean giving up altogether,  just re-thinking the way that you do something or the number of times that you do it. It can help for you to share this information with family members and work colleagues so that they are aware of what you should and shouldn’t be doing!

DO’S AND DON’TS

Do think carefully each time you use your joints.

Don’t think that you must do the job because it is good for you to push yourself. You cannot work off pain and inflammation.

Do start a job with the understanding that you can stop for a rest, stop altogether, or at least get some help.

Don’t get involved in lengthy jobs that tax you beyond your endurance and leave you exhausted.

Do take adequate rest. Balance your work and rest periods sensibly, to suit your needs.

In order to help you understand how damage and deformity can occur and, thus why taking care of your joints is so important, a basic knowledge of the anatomy of your joints is useful.

There are a variety of types of joints in your body, the type of which will vary according to what the joint does. Some joints, as in the wrists and shoulders, have to be able to move in many directions, whereas others, like hips and knees, have to be more stable and support a lot of weight.

Below is an breakdown of a typical joint what the parts do.

Joint capsule: Encloses the joint and keeps the fluid inside.

Synovium: The tissue that produces the fluid in the joint.

Synovial Fluid: The fluid that makes the joint surfaces slippery in a normal joint.
The amount and thickness of this increases during a flare-up causing swelling and pain.

Cartilage: A rubbery tissue that acts as a shock absorber and smooths and protects the ends of the bones.

Ligaments: Rubbery tissue that holds the two bones together and gives the joint stability

Joint stability is provided by the ligaments and capsule. When a joint is swollen these can become stretched, and this laxity or slackness often permits more movement than normal. When this happens, sometimes the joints stay in these abnormal positions and cannot return to normal. This tends to happen in the disease Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA).

Due to this laxity of the ligaments during a RA flare up, it is not wise to put unnecessary pressure on the joints,.

However, it is important to maintain your range of movement through the safe exercise program that will be provided by your therapists.

Following are general principles to help you think of your own daily stresses and how to overcome them.

  • USE LARGER AND STRONGER JOINTS TO DO THE TASK.
  • AVOID STRESS ON SMALL FINGER JOINTS
  • AVOID STAYING IN ONE POSITION FOR TOO LONG…this will help avoid stiffness and pain.
  • KEEP JOINTS CORRECTLY ALIGNED (STRAIGHT) WHEN DOING AN ACTIVITY
  • AVOID A TIGHT GRIP, ESPECIALLY OF SMALL OBJECTS
  • USE SPECIAL EQUIPMENT TO DECREASE STRESS ON YOUR JOINTS
  • AVOID HEAVY LIFTING
  • AVOID ACTIVITIES THAT INCREASE YOUR PAIN…however, it is important to keep up with your exercises and follow therapy advice.
  • FIND THE BALANCE BETWEEN REST AND ACTIVITY...prolonged activity can lead to pain and joint damage, while prolonged rest can lead to stiffness of muscles and joints. Rest before becoming exhausted.
  • AVOID RUSHING…rushing increases tension and fatigue.
  • PRE-PLAN AND ORGANIZE ACTIVITIES
  • SET PRIORITIES
  • AVOID POSITIONS OF DEFORMITY

The way you position your body when you do things is very important, as it will help prevent pain and protect your joints. Following are some helpful hints!

Sitting

  • Sit on a chair with a good back support.
  • Hips and knees should be at 90 degrees.
  • Feet should be flat on the floor—not hanging.

Tables/Work Surfaces

  • This should be at a height which allows the upper arms to rest comfortably at your sides with your shoulders relaxed while your forearms rest on the table surface while you perform your work activity.
  • You should not be hunched over (too low) or have your shoulders up and elbows sticking out to the sides (too high).
  • It can be useful to have your work surface at an angle (e.g. working on a folder tilted towards you).
  • Avoid working with your arms extended or unsupported.
  • Keep your work close to your body.
  • Avoid twisting movement—make sure that your work is directly in front of you.

Computer

  • The monitor should be in front of you at a neutral eye level. Keyboard should be at the correct height (see above).
  • The mouse should be close to your body and positioned to maintain your wrist in good alignment.
  • Make sure that you use a wrist rest.