Monday, May 9, 2011

Rev Up Your Joints

         Unless it’s the Holy Week, I think the average speed for vehicles in Metro Manila is disastrously slow, due to the absurd traffic jams we have.  Like a snail on steroids or Extra Joss, would be a good comparison. 

     Unfortunately, driving in traffic, with its frequent stopping and going, produces some of the hardest miles you’ll ever put on your engine, eventually damaging your vehicle.  It also has been shown to consume more fuel than straight, continuous driving. 

Aside from traffic, other Metro Manila road conditions that tend to damage your vehicles are humps, potholes, reckless drivers and swerving vehicles.  Our highways, like EDSA and Commonwealth Avenue (thank God, they placed a speed limit on the latter), are choked with rushing death machines such as buses, jeepneys and motorcycles.    

So what do these motoring issues have to do with an orthopedic surgeon like me?

Like vehicles, our joints are subjected to a fair amount of stress everyday.  In our youth, we have a good lubrication system in our joints that allow it to move smoothly and efficiently, like a brand new car.  Brand new engines have smooth, slick surfaces that enable friction-free movement between parts. 

But as we age, the inevitable happens, the joints are slowly stripped off their cartilage, joint fluid, which serves as the lubricant, decreases and bones begin to rub against each other during movement.  The friction between bones creates pain and inflammation.  Such as in engines, when the lubricants are used up, the friction between engine parts causes heat and wear and tear of surfaces.  Eventually, vehicle performance is diminished if these problems are not properly addressed by proper maintenance.

So, like engines, our joints have to be properly maintained to combat the stresses applied to it.  Regular low-impact exercise are to joints what regular oil change and fluid replacement are to vehicles, by promoting production of joint fluid.  Whereas, irregular high-impact movement is very stressful to the joints and accelerate damage.  Like the stop-and-go movement of cars in traffic situations.    

Loading is also a very important issue in joint maintenance.  When joints have to bear a lot of load, such as in people who are overweight, much stress is applied on it.  Maintaining an ideal weight, can delay damage to the joints.

In my medical practice, I am often asked about how to prevent arthritis, or inflammation of the joints.  I find that this analogy with cars and car maintenance, helps patients visualize what needs to be done. 

A vehicle, once used, will never run as smoothly as a brand new one again.  But regular maintenance and reduction of stress, can help delay the wear-and-tear for a longer time.  Arthritis cannot be totally prevented, but it can be delayed.  Prevention means maintaining a fine balance between use and disuse.  It also means avoiding as much stress on the joints as we can.

Cars represent a huge investment for us because it conveniently and efficiently takes us where we want to go, and so we feel the need to maintain that investment.   But our joints are more important than that, as we use them daily and helps us in our every movement and task.  If you love your car enough to regularly maintain it, shouldn’t you be loving your joints more?

More ways to show joint-love in the next article…

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