How to identify the early signs of joint damage

Published September 1, 2017

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sore knee
Common causes of joint damage include injury and the thinning of cartilage – the thin protective layer which helps to cushion our knees and other joints and prevents the bones from grinding against one another.

When cartilage starts to wear, it can cause inflammation of the entire joint, which could lead to further cartilage wear.1 If the protective layer between the bones becomes too thin, the joint may become swollen, resulting in pain and loss of mobility.

People often overlook the early warning signs of joint damage, dismissing minor niggles as the normal aches and pains that come with getting older, or the result of overdoing it at the gym. While our joints can withstand years of use, overuse and injury without wearing out, joint conditions do become more common with age. This is why it’s important to look after your joint health and know how to identify the early signs of joint damage.

What are the early symptoms of joint damage?

Mild pain, stiffness or limited movement in any of your joints – particularly weight-bearing joints like your knees and hips – may be early symptoms of joint damage. In addition, you might notice the following:

● Pain and stiffness first thing in the morning which lasts for up to half an hour but improves once the joint is warmed up
● Pain that gets worse when weight or pressure is put on the joint
● Pain that is aggravated by exercise or certain activities such as walking up and down stairs

If you’re experiencing any of the above, make an appointment with your GP to establish the causes of your joint pain and discuss the best course of action.

How can I help prevent further joint damage?

Participating in regular, moderate impact weight-bearing and cardio exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight are the first steps to minimising further joint damage. Here are four more tips to keep in mind once those first niggles start to appear:

1. Wear sensible shoes. If you’re suffering from knee niggles, decrease the stress on your joints by wearing flat, comfortable shoes. High heels are the worst culprits so it’s time to ditch those stilettos!

2. Take the weight off your feet. If your job or daily life involves you spending long periods on your feet, remember to give yourself regular breaks. Long periods sitting or standing can cause stiffness so alternate between the two (try to change position every 30 minutes or so). Office workers with mild osteoarthritis may find standing desks beneficial.2

3. Handle with care. Avoid activities that can cause excess pressure on your joints like heavy lifting. If you must, handle heavy items carefully: squat to lift an object rather than bending forward, and carry it close to your body. If you can, slide objects rather than lifting them.3


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