Takeaway: Maintaining joint health requires daily activity, knowing your limits, and proper nutrition. The more you use your joints, the less stiffness and more flexibility you’ll have. A diet that consists of mainly anti-inflammatory foods is highly recommended to optimize your joint health. The goal is to try to eat more natural, earth-grown food and less-processed foods.

In this article, we cover the different joints in the body, how they work together, and how you can not only maintain but optimize your joint health.

What is a Joint?

A joint is a connection that occurs between the bones in the skeletal system or the location at which two or more bones make contact. Joints allow the bones of your body to move. They are classified based on their specific structure and function. The structural classification is based on how the joints connect with each other, and the functional classification is based on the range of motion between the articulating bones.

Joint Definition

Joint: a structure in the human or animal body at which two parts of the skeleton are fitted together.

Joint Types

There are three structural classifications of joints:

  • Fibrous Joints
  • Cartilaginous Joints
  • Synovial Joints

Fibrous Joints

Fibrous joints are typically referred to as fixed or immovable joints because they do not move. Fibrous joints are joined by dense, rough connective tissue that consists of mainly collagen fibers. They have no joint cavity and are connected via fibrous connective tissue. There are three different classifications of fibrous joints: sutures, syndesmoses, and gomphoses.

Sutures

Sutures are the types of joint found in the skull. The adult skull is typically made up of 22 bones that are joined together by suturesa type of fibrous joints. Sharpey’s fibres connect the bones. The skull bones of a fetus are unfused, allowing the skull to move and compress during birth. As we age, however, sutures joints make the skull bones immovable to protect the brain from impact and help form your face.

Syndesmoses

Syndesmoses are slightly movable joints formed when two adjacent bones are joined by an interosseous membranea broad and thin plane of fibrous tissue that separates many of the bones of the body. They are found between long bones of the body, such as between the two bones in the forearm and between the tibia and fibula of the leg. The interosseous membrane in the lower arm is involved in the elbow joint and helps to stabilize the lower arm bones for strength, durability, and flexibility.

Gomphoses

A gomphosis is a fibrous joint that binds the teeth to bony sockets in the bones of the maxilla mandible. The gomphosis is the only joint type in which a bone does not join another bone because teeth are (technically) not bone. The movement of the root within a gomphosis has a threefold effect. It lessens some of the impact between the upper and lower teeth in biting, pumps blood and lymph from the periodontal membrane into the dental veins and lymph channels, and stimulates sensory nerves needed to send signals to the brain centers that control the muscles that are involved in chewing (mastication).

Cartilaginous Joints

Cartilaginous joints are connected by fibrocartilage or hyaline cartilage. They allow more movement than fibrous joints but less than that of synovial joints. Some examples of cartilaginous joints are:

  • Sternocostal joint
  • Epiphyseal growth plates in children
  • Sacrococcygeal joint
  • Pubic symphysis

Synovial Joints

Synovial joints are the most common and movable joints in the body. These joints have a synovial cavity. Their bones are connected by dense connective tissue that forms an articular capsule surrounding the bones’ articulating surfaces.

Synovial cavities are filled with synovial fluid. The principal role of synovial fluid is to reduce friction between the articular cartilage of synovial joints during movement. The knees, elbows, wrists, thumbs, and hips are examples of synovial joints. A healthy knee joint has up to 4 mL (less than a teaspoon) of synovial fluid.

Joints in the Body

Outline of male skeleton highlighting where joints in the body are.

How Many Joints are in the Human Body?

Although many people claim that there are exactly 360 joints in the human body, it is believed that the average number of joints varies from person to person. The number of joints in the human body falls between 200-400.

The number of joints is different when comparing a fetus to an adult. A fetus has 300 bones initially, but most of them fuse together by the time of birth. As our body develops, the bones are integrated, and the number of joints in our body is reduced. An average adult has about 206 bones in total.

Hip Joint

The hip joint, scientifically referred to as the acetabulofemoral joint (art. coxae), is a ball-and-socket synovial joint. Its primary function is to support the weight of the body while standing, walking, or running.

Knee Joint

The knee is the largest joint in the human body. Classified as a pivotal hinge joint, the knee allows for straightening and bending in one direction, with some twisting. The knee joint is comprised of three bones that interact to allow for the hinge-like motion:

  • Shinbone (the tibia)
  • The thigh bone (the femur)
  • Kneecap (the patella)

In a healthy knee, the back of the kneecap and femur are covered in articular cartilage allowing the two bones to move against one another without friction or pain.

Ankle Joint

The ankle joint is a synovial joint located in the lower limb with primarily up-and-down movement. The ankle joint is made up of three bones:

  • The shin bone (the tibia)
  • The thinner bone running next to the shin bone (the fibula)
  • A foot bone that sits above the heel bone (the talus)

The ankle joint allows the up-and-down movement of the foot. The subtalar joint sits below the ankle joint and grants side-to-side motion of the foot.

Shoulder Joint

The shoulder joint is a ball and socket joint between the scapula and the humerus. It is the primary joint connecting the upper limb to the trunk. It is one of the most mobile joints in the human body.

There is a wide range of movement permitted with a shoulder joint:

  • Extension
  • Flexion
  • Abduction
  • Adduction
  • Internal rotation
  • External rotation

Elbow Joint

The elbow joint is a hinge joint formed between the distal end of the humerus in the upper arm and the proximal ends of the ulna and radius in the forearm. The elbow allows for the flexion and extension of the forearm relative to the upper arm, as well as rotation of the forearm and wrist.

Hand Joints

The joints in our hands are made up of cartilage surfaces that cap the bones. When discussing hand joints, we break it down by the palm side (the palmar or volar surface), the back of the hand (the dorsal surface), toward thumb area (the radial side), and toward little finger area (the ulnar side). To further analyze the anatomy of joints in our hands, we move into the specific joints in our fingers.

Finger Joints

Our finger joints provide stability of the fingertips during pinching and power for gripping. They also allow you to bend and flex your fingers, spread your fingers, and bring the fingers together. For a detailed breakdown of the specific joints in each finger, you can visit the ASSH website.

How to Keep Your Joints Healthy

Doctor consulting patient about his knee joints and his joint health.

Maintaining joint health requires daily activity, knowing your limits, and proper nutrition.

The more you use your joints, the less stiffness and more flexibility you’ll have. Stretching before an intense workout promotes flexibility, so always try to stretch as part of your warm-up routine before any workout session.

It’s important to know your limits during any workout to avoid injury. It is perfectly fine to feel sore after your workout, but if you are sore for more than 48 hours after your workout session, you may have overdone it.

For your neck and spine joints, the best tip any expert will give you is to be mindful of your posture. Always try to maintain good posture to protect your joints.

Foods for Joint Health

What you eat can improve your joint health by properly nourishing the bones that support them. A diet that consists of mainly anti-inflammatory foods is highly recommended to optimize your joint health. The goal is to try to eat more natural, earth-grown food and less-processed foods. Keep the number of processed foods you consume to a minimum, as these food items typically increase inflammation in the body.

Here are some of the best food items to include in your diet for joint health:

1. Cherries

Cherries’ abundant supply of antioxidants has been linked to reduced levels of nitric oxide — a compound associated with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. In a study conducted at Boston University, the relationship between cherry intake and the risk of recurrent gout attacks among 633 individuals with gout was observed for a year. The results of the study showed that cherry intake over a two-day period was linked with a 35% lower risk of gout attacks compared to no consumption of cherries or cherry extract.

2. Red Bell Peppers

Red bell peppers are a disease-fighting powerhouse that boasts maximum nutrition for minimal calories. Red bell peppers have an abundance of vitamin C. Vitamin C helps your body make collagen, which is essential for the cartilage, tendons, and ligaments that surround and protect your joints.

3. Canned Salmon

Salmon and canned salmon is excellent for joint health. It is packed with calcium and vitamin C, which helps keep your bones strong. Salmon is also loaded with omega-3s, which help curb inflammation.

4. Kale

Kale, along with most other leafy-greens, is filled with nutrients that your body needs for joint health. Kale contains the antioxidants beta-carotene and vitamin C, which are great for reducing inflammation in the body. The calcium in kale also helps to keep your bones healthy.

5. Walnuts

The omega-3 fatty acids in walnuts help reduce inflammation in the body and support joint health. Although they are relatively high in fat and calories, several studies have revealed that walnuts actually promote weight loss because their protein, fiber, and monounsaturated fats are highly satiating.

6. Turmeric

Turmeric is a spice that comes from the turmeric plant. It is commonly used in Indian food. Known as a cleansing agent, turmeric often is used as a digestive aid in India. Turmeric has been known to reduce pain, inflammation, and stiffness related to arthritis and osteoarthritis.

The following foods can also help keep your joints discomfort-free:

  • Sweet peppers
  • Citrus fruits
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Onions
  • Leeks
  • Green tea
  • Ginger
  • Butternut squash
  • Mushrooms
  • Pineapple
  • Kiwi
  • Papaya

Nutrition for Joint Health

Women feeling the joints in her hand because she feels discomfort.

Nutrient-dense foods are essential for joint health. Here are some of the specific nutrients you should look for in your diet:

  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D
  • Calcium
  • Omega-3 fatty acids

Foods to Avoid

  • Fried foods
  • Sugar
  • Grain-fed meats
  • Alcohol
  • Fast food
  • Flour-based products
  • Foods with trans-saturated fats
  • Soda

Cracking Your Joints

Dr. Robert Klapper, an orthopedic surgeon and co-director of the Joint Replacement Program, has previously stated that “cracking your knuckles does no harm at all to our joints and it does not lead to arthritis.” He cites that cracking your joints is more of a psychological experience than a pain-relieving one.

Joint cracking itself does not harm your fingers, neck, ankles, or other joints that you may pop and crack throughout the day. However, if you experience any discomfort or pain while cracking these areas, then there may be a cause for concern. If you feel any discomfort while cracking your these areas, do not cause any further aggravation to your joints and see your healthcare provider.

Why Do Joints Pop or Crack?

As we get older, our joints tend to pop, crack, and altogether make more noise. This is because some of your cartilage wears away as part of the normal aging process. The surfaces of our joints get a little rougher as time goes by, and we tend to hear more noises as they rub against each other.

It is normal (and highly common) for your joints to pop and crack. Typically, the more active you are, the less popping and cracking you’ll hear from your joints because the motion is the lotion to your joints! The more active you are, the more your joints lubricate themselves and the fewer noises they’ll make.

How to Improve Joint Health

It is much harder to improve your joint health than it is to maintain joint health. A combination of these four steps can both improve and help you maintain joint health:

  1. Stay physically active every day: Try to get at least 30 minutes a day of physical activity.
  2. Eat a nutrient-dense diet: Eat more whole foods and stay away from processed foods.
  3. Maintain a healthy weight: Additional weight adds strain to your knees. The less you weigh, the less pressure your joints have to endure.
  4. Be supplement savvy: If you don’t get enough vitamins and minerals, there are always supplements to incorporate some of the vitamins we mentioned earlier (vitamin D, vitamin C, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids).

Bone and Joint Health go Hand in Hand

One of the key points that you should take from this article is that bone and joint health go hand in hand. You need to fill your body with nutrients that support bone strength and as a result, improve your joint health.

Common Joint Diseases

Women holding her knee because of possible joint disease and discomfort.

It’s important to take your joint health seriously. Some joint disease is genetic, whereas others arise from injury, smoking, or diet. The following are some common bone and joint conditions to be aware of:

Osteoarthritis

Causes:

  • Family history
  • Being overweight
  • Fractures or other joint injuries
  • Overuse
  • Playing sports that involve direct impact on the joint
  • Certain medical conditions can also affect joint health

Gout

Causes:

  • Uric acid too high in blood levels
  • Seafood, meat, organ meats, and alcoholic beverages can all start an attack
  • The use of some diuretics (water pills) can also be associated with attacks

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Causes:

  • The cause of RA is unknown.
  • Infection, genes, and hormone changes may be linked to the disease.

Bursitis

Causes:

  • Overuse or change in activity level
  • Trauma, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, or infection
  • Sometimes the cause cannot be found

Osteoporosis

Causes:

  • Family History
  • Drop in estrogen levels at the time of menopause
  • Drinking large amounts of alcohol
  • Low body weight
  • Smoking
  • Certain medications and medical conditions

Joint Replacement

Joint replacement surgery is considered a last resort treatment option to relieve arthritis pain and restore function to the affected joint or joints. It involves removing the cartilage from both sides of a joint and resurfacing the affected area with a prosthesis, which is a new joint made of metal and plastic components.

Any joint in the body can be replaced, but most joint replacement surgeries involve the replacement of the knees and hips. Generally, people who undergo joint replacement surgery can return to their daily life of activities without the pain and discomfort they previously experienced with the help of physical therapy and a committed rehabilitation program.

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