A few weeks ago on Twitter, I sent out one of my energizing quick tips – a simple reminder to break up the workday doldrums with some jumping jacks or running in place. I ended with the question, “Now, how do you feel?”
Soon after, I received an answer. But not the response I was looking for . . . Rather I got back a disheartened, “My knees ache!”
Oh yeah! Those creaky knees and whiny hips are no fun when it comes to exercise. Even in small doses.
I know – because I’ve been there. Last year, my hip dragged my running down. Actually I should say, my hips. Because the pain seemed to switch back and forth from hip to hip. As soon as one felt a little better, the next one would kick in. Probably I was favoring one to spite the other – and my hips were letting me know this!
And I’ve watched my husband grimace through knee pain, Achilles tendon injuries, stiff elbows and more.
However here’s the secret that you won’t hear much about when it comes to joint pain . . .
As much as it hurts to use them . . . it hurts more not to move them.
If you can work through the initial pain, using your tender joints can actually be part of the healing process.
Keep reading, because I’m going to tell you why leg exercises can make such a difference when it comes to healing and reducing pain.
But before I get into the why’s of this, let me start with a few guidelines:
- Focus on slow, careful strength-building leg exercises. This is about building muscle – not pounding your joints into submission! And start small. Only do one set at a time until you get stronger.
- Give yourself some additional support. Wrapping the sore joint with an Ace bandage can help you diminish the strain, especially as you start up with exercising.
- Use some of the other healthy pain-relieving, healing tactics I list here.
Okay, let’s get going with the explanations of why exercising can make such a difference in your joint pain . . .
Why Leg Exercises Heal Reason #1: Hard Work Tells Your Immune System To Back Off
Bodybuilder Tammy Thomas was hit by the debilitating autoimmune disorder rheumatoid arthritis (RA). In a personal article she describes how RA initially shut her beloved weight-training down. Despite her doctors concerns, she resumed training and discovered high-resistance workouts actually made the pain go down.
Research indicates when your body does high intensity training it actually produces anti-inflammatory immune communication molecules called cytokines. In particular, your body produces a unique cytokine called interleukin 6 (IL-6). This signal molecule is unique in that it signals the immune system to get busy in repairing the strained and stressed muscle tissue, something that usually results in inflammation.
But IL-6 also does something else. It signals your immune system to back off and stop the inflammation.
As a result, you feel less pain and stiffness.
As sports researcher and fitness expert, Lani Muelrath, noted in her article on this phenomenon,
Properly performed exercise releases signaling molecules that stimulate a unique healing response that couples both inflammatory and anti-inflammatory mechanisms to repair, regenerate, and grow stronger tissue. Unlike drugs, which have single targets and ignore the web-like interactions in the body, exercise works with the body’s innate intelligence to produce broadly beneficial effects that improve whole body function.
I couldn’t say it better. Your body uses movement as medicine for healing. Tap into this with some good cytokine-releasing strength-training.
Why Leg Exercises Heal Reason #2: When You Work Your Body, Your Body Has To Focus On Getting Your “Rusty” Parts Better
This is less technical but rooted in wisdom and experience. It’s one of those “common sense” insights my husband, Cassius, hits on so frequently. As he explains, when you move through an injury, it’s kind of like you tell your body, “I’m going to move – so you better deal with it!”
Perhaps this is a dose of that mind over matter phenomenon. When your brain is focused on the idea of getting moving again, your body has to adjust its activity accordingly. When your body is told it needs to get those muscles in gear, it focuses nutrition and resources into healing that part.
We’ve gone through lots of injuries and sore spots that were begging for mercy. But by moving it after an initial resting period, we got our movement back, often pain-free and as strong as ever.
Why Leg Exercises Heal Reason #3: When You Continue To Work Your Joints, Your Body Builds Protective Muscle
This step is both a proactive step you and a way to fortify an injured body part.
Scientists have been amazed when people with spinal or nerve injury manage to regain movement as their body rewires itself and bypasses the initial injured nerve pathway. While the “normal” nerve pathway may not be working, the body finds another route.
It’s the same thing when you build your muscles around an injured or sore spot. Muscles are your body’s internal armor. When you develop a weak spot – like that achy knee – if you focus on slow and careful strength-building activities you can grow extra struts and supports to fortify that joint.
Perhaps you may not be able to shorten that worn out ligament, or build up all the cartilage you once had. But if you build muscles, you can take some of the strain off of both these connective tissues.
Hint: When you do this kind of strength-building exercise, if you can use free weights or calisthenics using your own body weight you get a much richer muscle-building experience than if you use a weight machine. Because your body has to stabilize and balance as you squat or move that joint, you build up tangential, smaller muscles. As a result you develop a much more diverse and stronger muscle support.
And you can also use this strength-training proactively. In the spring – to prevent injury - I’m particularly attentive to my core and shoulders with all the gardening work coming up. When winter comes around, I focus on my legs for ski season.
When Your Body Aches, Exercise For Relief
Certainly, when you first injure yourself, you need to rest that body part. The good old acronym RICE (Rest, Icing, Compression and Elevation) works very well. This tried and true system says that upon injury you should rest the injured area, ice it, apply compression (wrap with an ace bandage) and elevate the injured area.
But don’t stay in the convalescent stage too long. From back injuries to knees, sports rehabilitation experts are now recommending you get active before too long. Use it or lose it.
For example – when Cassius injured his knee playing basketball, he could barely bend it much for a couple months. However, by doing more and more one-legged squats, he was able to make his knee stronger than ever. And eventually the pain when he ran and played became minimal.
I did the same with my ongoing hip pain. I backed off on running. Instead I did squats and deadlifts with heavy weights. With my back pain it was the same – a deliberate progression of using my back again.
How long should you rest before moving again? It depends on your fitness level and the injury. If it’s a break, or you’re feeling sharp pain and the area is still severely inflamed and swollen, definitely don’t move.
But don’t wait to feel no pain to start moving. Even a little inflammation is okay.
The key with new injuries or old aches is to start slow with one set of strength-building exercises. See how you feel after doing a set. See how you feel the next day. And slowly but surely build on this activity.
Want to get going with some simple and effective leg exercises? Try these 4 joint-strengtheners. (Please note, the jumps should be reserved until your joints are strong enough. But they are mighty!)
Got some sore joint suggestions or recovery stories? Please share below!
Sarah Clachar has built a thriving health copywriting business from scratch while being a mom . . . nurturing a strong marriage . . . and running a small homestead farm. Along with a BA in biology, she’s got two decades of experience teaching and researching about natural health. Her articles have been published in Life Extension Magazine, Health, Mothering, A Taste For Life, Nutrition Business Journal, and Natural Foods Merchandiser.
Over the years, she became keenly aware how important strategically working to maintain her health was for her business. And even more importantly, how good health factored into enjoying the rewards of having a successful business.
At Your Healthy Home Biz, Sarah has combined her expertise in health and her experience running a freelance health copywriting business into a special resource for home biz owners, freelancers and solopreneurs. Your Healthy Home Biz provides inspiration and a system for transforming your workday so you can run your home business without running yourself into the ground.
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