A Prescription for Joint Pain through Exercise - Harvard Medical School

Posted on 26 Nov 2015 09:52


Through their newsletter, Harvard Medical School has outlined ways in which exercising can improve and diminish joint pain. This is contrary to common knowledge where patients suffering from joint pain expect exercising to make their condition worse.

Before I begin, I want to state my standard disclaimer for all things medically related. To put it simply, I am not a doctor and I am not licensed to give out medical advice. Whatever tips and thoughts I have on the matter are purely my own and if you feel like trying them out please consult your doctor first. Despite this being a free newsletter, I am not going to publish the text verbatim. You can subscribe to Harvard Medical School's FREE Newsletter by clicking on the following link: Subscribe to Harvard Medical School's FREE Newsletter titled "Healthbeat"

There is a common misconception associated with strength training that people practicing this activity walk around feeling strong and healthy all the time. But as most of you who have built experience strength training will already know, this is really not the case. Most of the time we walk around feeling fairly beat up. Sure, we are stronger than the average Joe and we are capable of some pretty impressive feats of strength but we don't walk around feeling like Gods - atleast not all of the time. Our joints hurt, our muscles hurt and most of time we feel sleep deprived. However, this newsletter is not dedicated to us and most of us who have joint aches usually overcome them in due time. I know this is going to rub a lot of "it's all in the science" minded people the wrong way but most of the time your knee pain from squatting will go away after you persist squatting using the right technique for a while despite the pain. The same goes for elbow pain for those of us who do heavy weighted pull-ups regularly. Sometimes all we need to do is switch up the rep scheme and throw in some high rep sets at the end to ease the pressure - especially if we're doing strict pull-ups from a dead-hang position. This type of pain comes and goes and isn't worth splitting hair over. If the pain persists for a long time - like months on end, then perhaps the issue is bigger than what it is being given credit for. Like I mentioned earlier, HMS is not targeting us strength enthusiasts but regular people who are having pain while chasing a tennis ball or getting into and out of cars - mundane everyday activities. Yet, there is something for us to learn from their reasoning for choosing activity through exercise over inactivity to cure these aches and pains.


Harvard Medical School (HMS) has listed 5 ways in which exercising relieves joint pain:

  1. Through exercise, the muscles and connective tissue surrounding the joints is made stronger and more flexible. The example provided is of thigh muscles. When the thigh muscles are stronger, they help support the knee better and therefore take some of the pressure off the actual joint. This is a good example of why even though some of us pursue "maximal" strength which is the production of absolute force, we still rely on higher rep ranges to recruit more muscle. There's only so much your joints can take and building muscle improves performance because it makes the whole system stronger and better able to lift big loads.
  2. According to HMS, exercise relieves stiffness and stiffness is in and of itself a cause for much pain. Our bodies are meant to move and not remain inactive. When the body is not exercises, the tendons, muscles and ligaments lose their flexibility and become short and taut causing them to tense up. This creates stiffness and stiffness results in more pain. But when you exercise and stretch these tendons, muscles and ligaments are stimulated and they lengthen and stiffness goes away. Exercising through stiffness also improves range of motion and those of who squat regularly through soreness will definitely identify with this point.
  3. Just like a process tree, exercise causes production of synovial fluid. Synovial fluid is the lubricant inside all the joints of the body. Synovial fluid is important because it helps bring oxygen and nutrients into the joints. Therefore, exercise keeps the joints "well-oiled".
  4. Exercise boosts production of natural compounds in the body that dampen pain. So without exercise, HMS says, you are more sensitive to every twinge. But with it, there is a measure of "natural pain protection" in place.
  5. Exercise leads to body weight being under control. This helps relieving pressure in weight-bearing joints such as the hips, knees and ankles.

Lastly, HMS states a point that is obvious to all of us gym-goers: exercise increases production of natural chemicals in the brain that boost our moods and make us happier individuals. If you are interested in knowing more about these tips, please Subscribe to Harvard Medical School's FREE Newsletter titled "Healthbeat".

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