Why Joint Pain Isn’t Inevitable…and How to End Yours
One of the questions I most often hear from people is, Well, But what can I do about my knee/hip/back/neck pain? After all, I’m getting older!
OK, the truth is, there is some truth to that, in that we all have only so many miles in our joints. Some of us have more, and some of us, like me, have a lot less. However, limited mileage doesn’t doom us to lifelong joint pain.
When I was a teenager, I endured a tremendous growth spurt of 6 inches in just 4 months. It was terribly painful and it began more than a decade of constant knee trouble. By the time I was 25, despite the best care the very best sports-medicine doctors and physical therapists could provide, I had no cartilage between my knees. Severe, constant pain ended my very promising NBA career.
In retirement, I ended up creating my own rehabilitation program that was so successful, I have been pain-free for years, including while I was playing for the New York Knicks.
I’d like to share some of the “secrets” of that rehabilitation program with you now. Because of how your body is designed, these secrets will work with any kind of joint pain, from your ankles to your neck.
Secret #1: Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
Nothing you do affects the inside of your body…as much as what you put inside of it.
And when it comes to your joints, that’s particularly true for what you drink.
When we’re young, our joints are up to 85% water. Water is also an important component of synovial fluid, which lubricates and cushions your joints.
As we get older, our joints tend to contain less and less water. They’re dryer and they don’t glide as well as they used to.
What should you drink?
Water. And more water. I don’t buy that expensive bottled water. I just draw it straight from the tap into a pitcher. I often toss in some lemon or lime slices, or mix and match ingredients like a cinnamon stick or three, crushed mint leaves, cucumber slices, or chunks of fruit, and let the water steep overnight. This adds flavor, vitamins, and anti-oxidants.
Herbal tea: spice blends as a pick-me-up, chamomile for its mild, pleasant flavor and calming properties before bed.
Be careful with coffee and black tea. There is very strong evidence that coffee has great health benefits, including reducing the risk of gout in women and men. However, caffeine itself can pull minerals from your body and aggravate joint pain. Decaf coffee and green tea are both excellent.
Skip soda, energy or sports drinks. There is simply nothing in them your body needs—and sky-high levels of sugar and caffeine that will hurt your joints. (To learn more about how sugar can directly cause joint pain and make it a whole lot worse,
Instead, squeeze a whole real orange into a glass of sparkling water. It’s a delicious, refreshing alternative to soda.
Secret #2: Warm Your Muscles with Activity
Every joint has a code: the specific sequence that warms it up, stretches the muscles that surround it, and activates those muscles to support the joint.
So activity isn’t about exercise: the hiking or biking or walking you enjoy.
Rather, this is about warming up to getting the blood and lymph flowing in your body, and particularly around the joints that hurt.
Heat, walking, and even movements like jumping jacks, are all excellent ways to warm up. You can also target individual joints with specific activities, such as arm circles.
These activities warm your muscle so it can release knots and kinks more easily than if it were cold. Warm muscle also allows you to stretch more deeply and effectively.
Secret #3: Stretch Your Muscles to Release Strain
Yes, that’s right, and it’s a secret we’re taught to dislike. I’m not sure why, because done right, stretching is simple, pretty close to effortless, and practically painless.
And I get it.
I love engaging my muscles: it makes me feel strong and alive.
But during my growth spurt, my bones actually grew faster than my muscles, jamming my joints together. The one thing that might possibly have saved my knees was ballet-type stretching, where you hold a stretch for 20 to 30 minutes. I didn’t do it, I thought spending so much time stretching was a waste… and it would have saved me years of pain and possibly enabled me to retire on my own terms.
So I stretch now. Every.single.day.
And like most people, I do just fine with 2 or 3 20-to-30 second stretches.
That’s because, when we’re young, we’re supple and limber and active. As we get older, we become less active and our muscles get tighter and shorter, pulling our joints together so they grind against each other. Stretching stops and can reverse that tightening.
Stretching and warming activity are two of the three parts of the rehab program I created for myself to return to the NBA. I follow this rehab program to this very day. As long as I do it—despite being 7 feet tall, active, and having no cartilage between my knees, I am pain free.
My rehab routine takes about 20 minutes and while it varies from person to person, that seems to be pretty normal. Because I’ve helped thousands of people, from
- young trauma victims
- professional athletes
- baby boomers who want to stay active
- people with chronic diseases from arthritis to multiple sclerosis to
- seniors in their 90s
dramatically reduce and often eliminate their own joint pain.
If you’d like to learn more about how you, too, can radically diminish, even eliminate your own joint pain without drugs or surgery, click here.
5 Ways Your Core Protects Your Joints
When I tell people that if they want to relieve their joint pain, even totally end that pain, they must strengthen their core, they look at me like I have two heads.
After all, it’s their knees or their hips that hurt. Right?
Totally makes sense, but it’s not true.
And as someone who retired from the NBA at 25 with no cartilage between my knees, then rehabbed myself so well I played pain-free for the New York Knicks, I learned that the very hard way.
So you don’t have to.
What Is Your Core?
Your core is slang for those muscles that are the center of your body: your hips and back, your abdomen, your shoulders and chest, your diaphragm, pelvic floor and yes, your glutes. Your core also encloses and includes your entire spinal column.
All major body movements begin in the core. A weak core sets you up for all kinds of instability, forcing your joints to carry loads they weren’t designed to. A strong core is the key to a mobile, balanced body, allowing all your joints to glide freely and easily.
In short, your core is a system of 29 pairs of muscles, and your rectus abdominor, or “six pack abs”, is just one of them. Unfortunately, many people overwork their abs and neglect all their other core muscles. That’s a recipe for imbalance, instability, and pain.
So let’s take a deeper look at how these important muscles work protect you from pain.
Your shoulders are an extremely complex joint and you use them in almost all upper-body movements. This makes them vulnerable to a variety of injuries.
When you need to load your shoulders, whether it’s carrying groceries or lifting barbells, a strong core protects your shoulders by activating the abdominal muscles and bracing your entire spinal column. This “stiffness” allows your shoulder blades (your scapula) to stiffen in turn. Now your rotator cuff muscles are supported, so they can engage to stabilize your humerus, the bone of your upper arm through its range of motion.
Strong core muscles safely generate the power you need, without damaging your shoulder joints.
Low Back Pain
Generally speaking, if you have low back pain, you need to strengthen your core. Why?
Your core muscles stabilize your spine and pelvis. When you injure your back, those muscles “turn off” or shut down. This stresses the ligaments, which connect bone or cartilage to other bone or cartilage, forcing your stressing your sacroiliac joint to bear loads and forces your muscles should be carrying.
Ending low back pain, far from relying on pain killers or muscle relaxants, requires you to reengage and strengthen your core muscles to support your sacroiliac joint and allow it to function the way it was designed to. As a joint, not a weight-bearing structure.
Your core is how you carry your body, and there is a vicious feedback loop between a weak core and poor posture. Weak core muscles make it hard for you to carry yourself in a tall, neutral position. A slumped posture further weakens your muscles.
To compensate, your head tilts forward and down, causing your shoulders to roll and your chest to sinks. In turn, your pelvis tilts in, forcing your stomach and your butt out. Your knees turn in to compensate, destabilizing your feet (wearing heels makes this worse).
The chain reaction of weak core muscles turns every joint into your body into a weight-bearing structure.
Your glutes, the big muscles in your butt, abductors and adductors, and your hip flexor muscles are all part of your core. When those muscles are weak, the strain of walking, running and other movements is transferred to the ligaments in your hips, which in turn transfer that load to the hip joint, distorting its normal function.
Under such circumstances, your hip grinds into your pelvis.
This chain of weakness extends down to your knees. And because your knees are two relatively isolated joints that must bear almost the entire weight of your body, they are very extremely vulnerable to weakness in your glutes.
One of the most frequent mistakes I see people make (that I made myself for many years) is to focus on stretching the IT band and engaging the quads, the big muscles in the back of your thighs.
The fact is, you can do those things all day, every day, and unless you engage your glutes, those weak muscles will still force your knees to carry the weight your muscles should…
Forcing your knees to grind away at the cartilage, then the bone.
Click here to how to develop a strong core so your joints can once again glide easily past each other… without pain… in just minutes a day… even if you’re older, have arthritis or a disease such as multiple sclerosis.
Great Food that’s Great for Your Joints…and A Weird but Refreshing Recipe
We are what we eat. And what we eat can have a huge impact on how we feel, including how much our joints hurt us…or not.
Now, you probably know what you shouldn’t eat if you have joint pain.
Foods, especially fried foods with hydrogenated oils, the infamous trans fats.
Animal protein, especially red meat. Foods high in added sugar, which includes most anything in a bag, box, can or jar these years.
These foods increase the inflammation that is a cause of much joint pain, whether you have arthritis, bursitis, gout, or an injury.
So instead of scolding you about your diet, I’d like to share a few things I really enjoy.
Anything with Omega-3 Fatty Acids
You’ve probably heard, eat fatty, cold water fish like salmon, but not everyone likes fish, not even the noble, delicious anchovy.
Your body needs a balance between Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. However, Americans eat too many foods, like red meat, fried food, snack foods, and anything with sunflower oil, that are high in Omega-6s. We don’t eat nearly enough Omega-3s, which help prevent inflammation in the first place, then decrease production of inflammatory chemicals if you do have inflammation.
Walnuts and chia seeds are excellent sources of Omega-3s. A handful of walnuts and a piece of fruit is my go-to snack almost every day. Chia seeds have a neutral flavor that goes with just about anything, so you can bake with them, add them to your smoothies, and sprinkle them on your salads. You’ll get a great recipe with them (along with that weird-but-tasty recipe) at the end of this article.
And cauliflower, cabbage, kale and, my absolute favorite, Brussels sprouts, which I like to cut in half, sprinkle with a little olive oil and salt, then slow-roast so they’re kind of crisp and nutty and caramelized. Then I eat ‘em like potato chips, but much, much, much better.
All these cruciferous vegetables are so packed with phytonutrients and Vitamin C, a potent anti-oxidant, that, according to a study by the famous Mayo Clinic, they actually help prevent arthritis.
If you know you should eat more veggies, but find them kind of bland, or you’re just not used to their taste, some dressing will change your mind.
Olive oil is a great oil that adds a lot of flavor but it’s on the pricy side, so I buy the good stuff—and use it as a flavoring. (The only thing I cook with it is pasta.) I make my own marinades and dressings with some wine or balsamic vinegar, lemon, lime or orange juice, mustard, herbs, garlic—I just mix and match to complement whatever I’m cooking.
When making dressing, a good rule is 3 or 4 parts oil to one part acid, like vinegar or citrus juice. Then I add flavorings like garlic, herbs, mustard, even spices.
And of course, when I make pasta, I make use olive oil. I like to chop some broccoli, or better yet, broccolini, which is like young, tender broccoli with slender stems. Then I boil it very fast, until it just loses its crispness, sauté it in olive oil with a handful of garlic, a can of anchovies and a sprinkle of red pepper, then serve over pasta. It’s a fast, delicious dinner that’s also super healthy.
For regular cooking, I use organic canola oil. It’s so much better for your body than regular canola oil that the higher price is really worth it. That’s money you don’t have to spend on anti-inflammatory drugs that are hard on you.
I never use soy oil, often labeled as “vegetable oil” because it is a known allergen that triggers inflammation. In fact, I try to avoid anything with soy in it. So I don’t eat a lot of processed food and I use butter and occasionally lard for baking.
To be honest, although I’ve had some amazing eggplant, it’s not my favorite vegetable. And it’s a nightshade, so some people are allergic to it. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone being allergic to berries—and most people love them.
What do they have in common? The deep, red-blue-purple skins, rich in anthocyanidins. These powerful antioxidants have a beneficial effect on heart health. According to a study by the Harvard School of Public Health, people whose diets are rich in berries tend to have lower c-reactive protein levels. C-reactive protein is a marker for inflammation. The lower your CRP levels are, the better off you—and your joints—are.
Like soy, milk is an allergen: it causes an allergic, inflammatory response in many people. That’s usually of the lactose, a sugar than is hard to digest and triggers inflammation in many people. However, milk is also rich in calcium, which is important for bone health, and fortified with Vitamin D, which lowers your risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.
A great solution is plain yogurt, without “fruit” that’s actually syrup with artificial colors, flavors, and nuggets of stuff that might or might not have been fruit.
Plain yogurt has very little lactose and is loaded with healthy probiotics that can reduce inflammation. You can always dress it up with a splash of vanilla (or almond or hazelnut or…) extract and some fresh fruit.
But I drink plain yogurt just about every day…and while it is an acquired taste, I really enjoy it.
This is my version of salty lassi, an Indian drink. It’s incredibly refreshing in the summer and a great way to get calcium year-round.
- 1 8-ounce cup plain yogurt. I prefer one with a sour, tangy taste
- 8 ounces cold water (you may want more or less)
- Pinch salt
- Pinch spices—toasted cumin and mint (an herb) are traditional. I like garam masala, an Indian spice blend, and you can be adventurous with your favorites.
In a mixing bowl or blender, blend all ingredients until frothy. Enjoy.
If you like the idea but not the taste, you can substitute a plain yogurt with a creamy, mild flavor and some fruit. This is a sweet lassi and mango is the traditional Indian fruit.
But What if You’re Vegan?
Or even just want to limit your intake of animal-based foods?
Earlier, I mentioned chia seeds, which really are a superfood. But they aren’t just packed with Omega-3s, calcium, protein, and fiber. Add water and they quickly become creamy and luscious.
Love custard? Don’t want to mess around cooking it? The chia seed comes to your rescue in this indulgent berry and chia seed pudding that serves 2.
- 1 cup unsweetened vegan milk (I really like coconut)
- 3/4 cup of your choice berries
- 3 tablespoons chia seeds
- 2 tablespoons your choice of natural sweetener (white or brown sugar, honey, maple syrup…) or stevia to taste.
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (or nutmeg)
- dash salt
Stir all ingredients except berries together in a small bowl. Gently fold in ½ cup berries. Divide into serving bowls or glasses, then top with remaining berries. Refrigerate for 2 hours.
Good food can reduce joint pain but it can’t treat the causes. Click here to reduce, even eliminate your joint pain at the source…without drugs, surgery, or expensive, time-consuming physical therapy.