Joint Health

Family Health Diary

What are joints?

All bones, except for one (the hyoid bone in the neck), form a joint with another bone. Most joints are designed to protect the ends of bones where they meet. They also hold your bones together and they allow your rigid skeleton to move. Bones are connected to other bones by many different types of joints. Some are fixed (such as in the skull) but most are moving joints.

Moving joints are described as ‘synovial’ joints. They are characterised by the presence of a closed space, or cavity, between the bones.

Synovial joints include:

  • Ball and socket joints, like your hip and shoulder joints
  • Hinge joints, like those in your knee and elbow
  • Ellipsoidal joints, such as the joint at the base of your index finger
  • Gliding joints that occur between the surfaces of two flat bones held together by ligaments (some of the bones in your wrists and ankles move by gliding against each other)
  • Pivot joint in your neck that allows you to turn your head from side to side
  • Saddle joints, found only in your thumbs

Synovial joints are made up of bone, cartilage, tendons and ligaments and synovial fluid.

Joints can be affected as we age

Our joints work extremely hard over a lifetime so it is not surprising that repeated strenuous activity involved in certain jobs and sports, and the ageing process, are likely to affect their health and efficiency.

Genetic predisposition can also impact on joint health. Few people over the age of 50 fail to notice some stiffening of their joints, particularly when getting up in the morning or after a period of prolonged inactivity.

Prevention and treatment

As we are all living longer, it makes good sense to take care of our joints to keep them supple and flexible at work and at play:

1. Maintain a healthy weight
Carrying too much weight increases the strain on load bearing joints. Elasticated bandages and braces may reduce the strain on joints, especially during exercise or everyday activities

2. Exercise
Many people think that exercise might damage their joints. Although intensive sports participation may not always be beneficial to joints, moderate exercise promotes movement, strength, sustained function as well as aiding all-round physical and psychological well-being.

For information on the Green Prescription Programme visit

ACC supports strength and balance programmes in most communities. If you’re aged 65 years or older (55 years or older if Maori or Pacific) you may benefit from a strength or balance activity to keep you active and independent for longer, visit

3. Eat a balanced diet
Some people claim that certain foods are either good or bad for their joints. There is no hard evidence to support any particular foods or any particular diet regime for joint health apart from eating foods high in the omega-3 fatty acids, like oily fish. A healthy diet includes plenty of fruit, vegetables and grains and only moderate amounts of fatty and sugary foods.

4. De-stress your joints
Find ways to go about your day without stressing your joints.
An occupational therapist can help you discover ways to do everyday tasks or do your job without putting extra stress on your already painful joints. For instance, a special seat in your shower or toilet could help relieve the pain of standing or sitting if you have lack of joint mobility.

5. See your doctor
If you have swelling or stiffness in your joints that lasts for more than two weeks, make an appointment with your doctor for an accurate diagnosis. There are many types of medication or other management strategies to reduce pain and swelling of joints. Your doctor may make a referral to a physical therapist. The physical therapist can work with you to create an individualized exercise plan that will strengthen the muscles around your joint, increase your range of motion in your joint and reduce your pain.

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