Tag Archive for: joint and bone health

It’s hard to imagine a life without joints. They spring into action the moment you roll out of bed. Joints facilitate little movements like brushing your teeth and tying your shoes. And they also allow you to clap, dance, and play.

Thank your joints for helping you find this article. Whether you’re at your desk or scrolling through your phone, joints make movement (like keystrokes and texting) possible.

Joints play an important part in everyday life. But it might not be easy to know if your joints are in good health. So, pause for a moment to learn about joints and easy ways to keep them in shape.

The Role of Joints

Joints are the skeletal hinges that make movement possible. Simply defined, a joint is the area where two bones connect, or make contact. They turn a rigid skeletal frame into a dynamic and flexible body.

Your joints are powered by muscle to move your body. And there are two main ways your joints move. When the bones in a joint move away from each other (like when you spread out your fingers and open your hand) it’s called extension. Flexion happens when your bones are brought closer together (making a fist).

Types of Joints

Not all the places your bones connect are the same. And there are three main types of joints. Grouped together by their range of movement and material composition, they are: fibrous (immovable), cartilaginous (slightly moveable), and synovial (freely moveable).

Fibrous

This joint may initially be hard to identify. They don’t look or function like you’d think a joint would. Fibrous joints (or fixed joints) are permanent connections between two bones. The easiest fibrous joints to identify are the sutures of the skull.

Your skull is made up of large, flat bones that fused together over time. But your skull was not always rock solid. A newborn’s is soft and moldable in order to safely exit the birth canal. Flexible bones slide over each other during delivery and return to their original position in the days following birth.

The flat bones of the skull then grow larger over time and become connected by thick, fibrous tissue. This joint is called a suture. Once settled in their permanent location, sutures ossify (turn to bone). These joints are completely immobile.

Teeth are another example of fibrous joints. Also called gomphoses, the joints between teeth and their sockets are welded together by periodontal tissue.

Cartilaginous

Like the name suggests, these joints are made up of cartilage links between bones. But not the squishy cartilage that makes up your ears and nose. This joint cartilage is incredibly strong and can withstand significant pressure.

A cartilaginous joint is only slightly moveable. One example is the pubic symphysis that connects the left and right pubic bones and stabilizes the pelvis. However, when a woman gives birth, this joint permits enough movement to widen her pelvis for delivery.

There are also cartilaginous joints between every vertebra in your spine. Individually, joints between vertebrae can move very little. But each slightly moveable cartilaginous joint across multiple vertebrae allows for dramatic movement—think about bending over to touch your toes.

This important type of joint also function to absorb impact. Cartilage discs cushion the spine and maintain its flexibility while you walk, jump, and dance.

Unlike their fibrous siblings, cartilaginous joints will never turn to bone. They remain mildly flexible and work together to provide strength and mobility throughout the body. 

Synovial

When you think of joints, you probably picture the synovial type. These are the connections between bones that make up your shoulder, hip, knee, and more. Synovial joints are free-moving and can extend and flex in several directions.

There are several different kinds of synovial joints. Most notable are the hinge, pivot, and ball-and-socket joints. These names describe how the joints work in your body:

  • Hinge joints are everywhere. Two significant examples are your knee and elbow. The long bones in your arms and legs are connected to each other via a hinge joint. It swings bones in and out in one direction.

You also have lots of hinge joints in your hands and feet. The bones in your fingers and toes are linked together through these types of joints. Think of making a fist or curling your toes. This movement is made possible by the collective effort of many hinge joints.

  • When you turn your head, you’re utilizing a pivot joint. That’s because the first two vertebrae in your spine are pivot joints that make side-to-side head movement possible.

This joint type works by connecting the round end of one bone to another bone with a ring of ligament tissue. Pivot joints don’t allow 360-degree rotation, but they help you move a lot.

Another pivot joint is found at your wrist. The two bones in your forearm (radius and ulna) rotate around each other with the help of a pivot joint. Try turning your hand over to look at your palm and then the back of your hand. You’re utilizing this kind of joint.

  • Ball-and-socket joints are the most mobile joints in your body. They have a large range of motion and can create movement in several directions.

These joints look exactly as described—like a ball in a socket. The spherical end of one bone fits into the cupped end of another. The two fit together very well and make it possible for the bone with the rounded end to move freely.

Your hips and shoulders are ball-and-socket joints. They help you swing your arms and legs in a front-to-back motion, and out to the side. You can also completely rotate the hip and shoulder.

Because these types of joints perform such dynamic movement they need protection from dislocation and injury. It is no surprise some of your strongest muscles surround ball-and-socket joints. Muscles, ligaments, and tendons power and stabilize the movement of these joints.

Joint Helpers: Ligaments and Tendons

Joints are powerful on their own, but they need help to stay in place. There are tissues in your body that secure bone to bone and bone to muscle. They’re called ligaments and tendons.

Tendons attach muscle to bone. They also protect the joints they surround. But the main role of tendons is to push and pull the bones they’re attached to.

Ligaments link bone to bone. Generally, the stronger the ligaments surrounding the joint, the more stable the joint is. That’s good. You want to maximize stability to ward off potential injury to your joints.

There are ligaments between the hinge joints in your fingers and knees. They strengthen the joints by preventing dangerous backward movement of the fingers. Ligaments also protect your knees from hyperextension (bending the wrong way).

Ligaments can decrease in strength and elasticity over time. So, it’s important to keep moving your joints that depend on the ligaments for stability. Maintaining your flexibility can support the long-term health of your joints.

Also, keep an eye out for signs and symptoms of joint injury. Unnecessary strain and overuse can leave even the strongest joints sore and swollen. Proper care for your joints includes regular use and rest. Give your joints a chance to recover from all the heavy lifting they do throughout the day.

Get Moving with 5 Joint Health Tips

Young or old, joint health should be high on your priority list. It’s never too early to start thinking about your joints. They work hard to move your body, so be good to them.

Joint discomfort is a pain, literally. But there are simple ways to keep your joints working and feeling their best.

You can stand up for your joint health by:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight. Carrying around extra pounds adds stress to your joints. For example, when running you can put up to five times the force on your knee joints. That would mean for every extra pound or kilo of body weight you are carrying around would equate to an extra five pounds or kilos of force put on those joints. Many people experience moderate relief from joint pain by staying at a healthy weight.
  • Exercising regularly. Moving the muscles that power your joints helps keep them from stiffening up. Low-impact exercises like walking, swimming, and biking are great ways to maintain joint health without intense aching or soreness. Protect your joints with proper safety equipment (like helmets and kneepads) before your sweat session. You only get one set, so treat it well.
  • Improving your posture. Walking tall and sitting up straight don’t just boost your confidence. They protect your joints, too. Slouching and slumping put a lot of pressure on joints. Practicing good posture helps evenly spread the weight your joints carry.
  • Eating Right. Fuel your muscles and bones with healthy foods to support joint health. Focus on getting calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, and other joint-health nutrients to support your bones. Dairy, canned sardines in oil (with bones), fortified cereals and orange juice, Chinese cabbage, and cooked kale will do the trick. And eat lean proteins for maintaining mighty muscles.
  • Supplementing. Glucosamine and the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil are key nutrients that support healthy joints. Consider adding these supplements to your daily nutrition to help maintain your joint health. Both are believed to also play a role in keeping up optimum joint comfort.

Take good care of your joints and enjoy all the fun things they make possible. Jump, spin, clap, or crawl—joints make it all possible.

About the Author

Sydney Sprouse is a freelance science writer based out of Forest Grove, Oregon. She holds a bachelor of science in human biology from Utah State University, where she worked as an undergraduate researcher and writing fellow. Sydney is a lifelong student of science and makes it her goal to translate current scientific research as effectively as possible. She writes with particular interest in human biology, health, and nutrition.

Shot of female runner stretching legs before her workout. Woman warming up before outdoor workout with sun flare.

Shot of female runner stretching legs before her workout. Woman warming up before outdoor workout with sun flare.

Bones and your skeletal system are often misunderstood. They do a lot of heavy lifting to support your body and give it shape. But that’s not all. Your bones do much more to make your body healthy and strong. And they’re more alive than you realize. Learning about your bone anatomy is the first step to properly supporting your bone health.

Basic Bone Anatomy

Skeletons can remind us of sickness and death. They often symbolize danger or poison. But your bones are alive and well. And solid bone health starts at the cellular level.

Your skeleton is full of cells—each with a specialized job to do. The cells in your bones create everything from new bone to the blood pumping through your heart. But the main focus here will be on the structural components of your bone anatomy.

There are three types of cells that help maintain bone integrity. Their names tell us important information about their function. It is important to understand how bone cells operate. Knowing how your bones function can explain how braces straighten teeth and how broken bones heal.

Osteoblasts

The builder cells of the bone (osteo = bone; blast = germ, grow). Their name literally means bone growth. Osteoblasts make new bone and rebuild old or broken bones. These cube-shaped cells stack like building blocks. When osteoblasts come together, they secrete a flexible material called osteoid. Blood vessels and nearby bone cells deposit calcium and other mineral salts in the osteoid to make it hard and strong. After the osteoid hardens, those osteoblasts are stuck and they transform into another type of bone cell—osteocytes.

Osteocytes

Mature bone cells (osteo = bone, cyte = cell). They come from osteoblasts that have stopped making new bone. Osteocytes grow long branching arms that connect them to neighboring osteocytes. Through these connections they can exchange minerals and communicate through cell-signaling pathways. Osteocytes monitor the bone and detect mechanical stress. They tell osteoblasts when sections of bone need reinforcement.

Osteoclasts

The opposite of osteoblasts. Osteoclasts (osteo = bone, clast = break) break down bone. But this kind of bone breaking isn’t bad. Osteoclasts make room in and on bones for muscles and blood vessels. They also recycle old bone so new, healthy bone can replace it. This keeps bones strong and resistant to mechanical stress. Osteoclasts are large cells outlined with a ruffled border. Their wrinkled exterior grips tightly to bone. These cells secrete hydrochloric acid which strips minerals like calcium and phosphate from the bone. This process is called osteolysis (osteo = bone, lysis = break apart).

It’s a team effort between all these cells to maintain your bone health. Osteoblasts and osteoclasts perform opposite roles but work together to make your bones strong. When a bone is broken, osteoclasts remove the broken pieces and smooth any jagged edges. Osteoblasts add new bone to fill in the gaps.

It is difficult to see bone cells at work. But your teeth work like bones do, and provide a good example.

To straighten crooked teeth, the bones in your jaw are constantly being broken down and repaired. Braces apply pressure to your teeth and jaw. This pressure stimulates osteoclasts to get rid of bone in the wrong place. Then osteoblasts put new bone in the right place. The result is a beautiful smile of straight teeth.

Role of Bones in the Body

You may have heard that without your bones, you’d be a puddle of flesh and blood. And it’s true.

The skeleton provides the framework and support your body needs to stay rigid and upright. Bones serve as attachments for muscle groups. They act as levers and allow for muscle flexing and extension. These important muscle attachments help us to walk, run, sit, and stand.

Your bones also protect your vital organs from harm. They can absorb the impact of injuries and shield the organs underneath them. Think of all the vital organs your rib cage protects. Your skull is a case for your invaluable brain.

And you would be unrecognizable without your bones. While the muscles in your face and neck are responsible for facial expressions, the bones underneath give your face shape. The position of your cheeks, your chin, and nose are all determined by your skeleton.

Advanced Bone Anatomy: Lengthening and Strengthening

I only compete with myself. Young smiling women exercise pushups at the street.

You try to avoid stress, pressure, and tension as much as possible. But these three forces compel your bones to grow and develop. Your bone anatomy makes this possible. Mechanical stimulation triggers osteoblasts and osteoclasts to reinforce the bones in your body. This kind of stress is good, it makes bones stronger.

To lengthen, bones need to be pulled on by the muscle groups attached to them. Regions of bone called growth plates are near the ends of the long bones in your body. Growth plates are sections of active bone tissue. When your muscles tug on the ends of long bones, they provide the necessary stress to encourage bone growth. Osteocytes sense the tension in the growth plate and direct osteoblasts to lay down new bone tissue. When this happens too quickly in children, it can lead to a nagging, dull pain. This constant discomfort is often referred to as growing pains.

Bones grow in length, but they also increase in thickness. Exercise thickens bones, making them stronger and harder to break. Athletes have often been recognized for having longer than average leg bones. Longer legs, especially thighs, may be seen in athletes because they constantly apply pressure to their bones from frequent exercise.

Eventually, our bones stop growing in length when growth plates slow down their activity. For women, this occurs around age 16. For men, it’s about age 19. Between ages 25 and 30, most people will reach their peak bone mass. Maintaining bone mass after age 40 is important and part of a healthy lifestyle.

Bone Health Maintenance

Foods rich in calcium such as sardines, bean, dried figs, almonds, hazelnuts, parsley leaves, blue poppy seed, broccoli, italian cabbage, cheese, milk, yoghurt

The best way to protect your bones is to fortify them with healthy habits. Diet and exercise are two of the best ways to help maintain your bone health.

By far the most valuable mineral to your bones is calcium. When calcium stores are lacking, your body pulls it from your bones to use elsewhere. To safeguard your bones, eat a diet rich in calcium.

This essential mineral is found in milk, yogurt, and cheese, but also in green leafy vegetables and soft-bone fish. Some foods make it difficult for your body to absorb calcium. Soda and carbonated beverages decrease the amount of calcium absorbed by the intestines. Evaluate your diet and see if you can include more calcium. When in doubt, taking a multi-mineral or other supplement with a calcium component is always a great idea.*

Another critical component to your bone health is magnesium. Besides being one of the minerals in found in bone, magnesium stimulates the thyroid to secrete calcitonin. Calcitonin is a hormone that helps preserve bone strength by channeling calcium from your bloodstream to your bones. Not only does magnesium help strengthen your bones, but this key mineral can help maintain healthy muscle function.*

Vitamin D is also a critical player in bone health. Vitamin D allows our bodies to absorb the calcium in our diets. Your body can make its own vitamin D when skin is exposed to the sun. And some foods and dairy products are fortified with vitamin D. They can help you get what your body needs. But those still falling short should consider taking a supplement with vitamin D.*

Bone Health Throughout the Lifespan

bone health

Bones provide your body with strength and mobility throughout your whole life. Maintaining these important organs will keep your bones working for years to come. Even though bones stop growing in length before age 20, cells are actively repairing and replacing themselves every day.

Bone cells regenerate at a pretty remarkable rate. It’s a myth that you only get one skeleton during your lifetime. In fact, your skeleton completely replaces itself every two to 12 years—depending on your age. It turns over more quickly when you are young, and slows as you age. Without this regeneration, bones weakened by prior fracture or constant mechanical stress would never fully mend. Instead these regions grow to be stronger than ever.

This constant regeneration and turnover should give you hope. Every day is a new opportunity to help out your skeleton. So it’s never too late to develop habits of diet and exercise that will strengthen and protect your bone health.

More Bone Fun Facts

Asian beautiful women resting and holding water bottle after play yoga and exercise on white brick wall background with copy space.Exercise for Lose weight,increase flexibility and tighten the shape.

Learn these 11 bone anatomy facts and share them the next time someone tells you that skeletons are spooky. It will remind them that bones aren’t scary—they’re awesome.

  1. Your bones are vascular. This means blood vessels run to your bones and deliver oxygen and nutrients to bone tissue. Nutrients are brought to your bones in the bloodstream. They are necessary for making bones hard and strong.
  2. The number of bones in your body actually decreases as you age. Newborn babies have close to 270 bones in their tiny skeletons. As they mature, smaller bones fuse together to form more complex shapes. The human skull is made up of 22 bones that fuse together as we grow. By adulthood, humans have only 206 bones in their bodies.
  3. Red blood cells are constantly circulating in the bloodstream. However, their origins are less well known. Bone marrow, the thick substance at the center of bones, produces red blood cells. There are two types of bone marrow—red and yellow. Red bone marrow forms red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Yellow bone marrow can be converted into red bone marrow in the case of severe blood loss.
  4. The femur (thigh bone) is the longest and strongest bone in your body. Some experts have hypothesized that the femur is stronger than a piece of steel of the same weight. The shortest bone is the stapes (bone of the middle ear).
  5. While still considered part of the skeletal system, teeth are not bones. Bones and teeth have a lot in common. They are both hard, white, and packed with calcium, but there are a few differences that distinguish the two. Teeth do not have the regenerative powers of bone tissue. Teeth are unable to heal themselves when broken. Bones, on the other hand, have a network of cells at their disposal designed to heal cracks and make them stronger.
  6. Collagen is a protein found in bones that helps them withstand tension and pressure. Collagen is also an important protein in your skin. It gives skin elasticity and helps your bones absorb shock.
  7. Even though they lack collagen, teeth still manage to be stronger than bone. Teeth are the hardest part of the body and are made primarily of a protein called dentine. Dentine is covered completely by hard tooth enamel, and it is this enamel that makes teeth so strong.
  8. In the animal kingdom, skeletons are quite rare. Close to 97 percent of all animal life is invertebrate. That means they lack a spinal column. Humans are in the minority. It is our spinal column and the joints attached to it that allow us to walk upright.
  9. Of the 206 bones in your body, 106 (more than half) are found in your hands and feet.
  10. If you can speak, you owe a lot to a very unique bone. The hyoid bone is responsible for holding your tongue in place. You can feel your hyoid bone by gently pressing near the top of your throat. The hyoid bone is completely surrounded by muscle and the esophagus. This bone is special because it is the only bone in the body not attached to another bone.
  11. Bones are considered organs. Taken together they provide no fewer than six essential functions to your body. These include: support, movement, protection, blood-cell production, nutrient storage (mostly iron, calcium, and magnesium), and hormone production.

As you can see, bones are much more than stiff, static structural elements. They provide many functions you need to live a healthy life. Start thinking more about bone anatomy and doing everything you can to look after your bone health.

About the Author

Sydney Sprouse is a freelance science writer based out of Forest Grove, Oregon. She holds a bachelor of science in human biology from Utah State University, where she worked as an undergraduate researcher and writing fellow. Sydney is a lifelong student of science and makes it her goal to translate current scientific research as effectively as possible. She writes with particular interest in human biology, health, and nutrition.

osteocalcin

In addition to Calcium, Magnesium and Vitamin D, vitamin K1 and K2 play an essential role in bone health by regulating levels of osteocalcin. Osteocalcin is a protein found in the extracellular matrix of bone and dentin that is involved in regulating mineralization in the bones and teeth. A study published in Calcified Tissue International […]

skeleton

Post-menopausal women are more susceptible to osteoporosis as their estrogen levels decline. This leads to greater excretion of calcium and results in more brittle bones prone to fracture. In this study, women who took calcium supplements twice a day reduced their risk of breaking a bone, but getting them to consistently take the supplements was a problem.

The study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, led researchers to state that they believed calcium supplementation may not be a good public health approach to fracture prevention, not because they don’t work, but because of the lack of long-term compliance. Nearly half the 1,460 healthy women who participated in the study did not consistently take the twice-daily 600 mg supplements.

However, among the women in the study who took at least 80 percent of their assigned calcium, only 10 percent suffered a fracture within one year compared to 15 percent of the women who regularly took a placebo. Therefore, taking extra calcium in supplement form did significantly help those women who took them regularly.

The results of this study illustrate two important points: negative conclusions reported in some supplement studies may be a result of poor compliance, not the failure of the supplement itself, and supplements won’t likely be effective if they are not taken consistently.

Prince RL, Devine A, Dhaliwal SS, Dick IM. Effects of calcium supplementation on clinical fracture and bone structure: results of a 5-year, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in elderly women. Archives of internal medicine. 166(8):869-75. 2006.

weight lifting

Recent studies have indicated that oxidative stress may be a contributing factor in the development of decreased bone density and an increased risk of bone fracture.

The study, published in the journal Osteoporosis International, included 21,774 Norwegian men and women aged 65-79 that were part of a community-based health study. Serum Vitamin E concentrations were measured at the beginning of the study and subjects were followed for 11 years.

During the course of the follow up, 1,168 hip fractures were reported in both men and women. After adjusting for smoking, month of blood sample, BMI, education, physical inactivity, self-rated health, and serum 25-hydroxy vitamin D (25(OH)D), serum vitamin E levels showed a linear inverse association with hip fracture risk. Among subjects in the lowest quartile (25%) of serum Vitamin E, the risk of hip fracture was 51% higher than those whose levels were among the top 25%.

In this population, low serum vitamin E concentrations were associated with an increased risk of hip fractures. These results confirm the findings of two recent cohort studies, which also found an increased risk of bone fracture among older adults with low serum vitamin E concentrations. The researchers suggest that in addition to its antioxidant effect, vitamin E could have a direct role in bone remodeling. However, further research is needed to clarify the role of vitamin E in maintaining bone health.

Holvik K, Gjesdal CG, Tell GS, et al. Low serum concentrations of alpha-tocopherol are associated with increased risk of hip fracture. A NOREPOS study. Osteoporos Int. 2014;25(11):2545-54.

Michaëlsson K, Wolk A, Byberg L, Ärnlöv J, Melhus H. Intake and serum concentrations of α-tocopherol in relation to fractures in elderly women and men: 2 cohort studies. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014;99(1):107-14.

The results of a clinical trial published in Arthritis Research and Therapy suggest that supplementing with glucosamine and taking regular walks can improve pain, physical function, and overall activity levels in adults with mild to moderate knee or hip osteoarthritis.

Thirty-six low-activity participants (aged 42 to 73 years) were provided with 1500 mg glucosamine sulfate per day for 6 weeks. At the end of six weeks, the participants began a 12-week progressive walking program (while continuing to take glucosamine.)

Study subjects were given a pedometer to monitor step counts. They were then randomized into two groups – one to walk 3 days per week, the other to walk 5 days per week. The length of the walk was gradually increased over the course of the program, with 6000 per day being the goal by the end of the 12-week period. Physical activity levels, physical function, and arthritis symptoms were analyzed at the beginning and at 6, 12, 18 and 24 weeks.

Physical activity levels, physical function, and pain assessment scores improved during the first 6 weeks of the study (glucosamine supplementation only.) Between the start of the walking program (week 6) and the final follow-up (week 24), further improvements were seen, though most improvements happened between weeks 6 and 12. No significant differences were observed between participants who participated in the 3 and 5 day per week programs.

In people with mild to moderate hip or knee osteoarthritis, walking a minimum of 3,000 steps (approximately 30 minutes) at least 3 days per week, in combination with glucosamine sulfate, may reduce some symptoms of osteoarthritis.

Ng N, et al. Efficacy of a progressive walking program and glucosamine sulphate supplementation on osteoarthritic symptoms of the hip and knee: a feasibility trial. 2010. Arthritis Research & Therapy 12(1):R25.