Make no bones about it, our skeletal system is one of the most paramount systems in our body. Tweet This! In honor of Bone and Joint Health Action Week, held annually on Oct. 12 – 20, here’s everything you need to know about bones, joints and how to keep yours healthy and strong, as a part of your healthy lifestyle.
With 206 bones, our skeletal system has four main functions:
- Providing the framework and structure for our body
- Controlling movement of the body
- Protecting our vital organs
- Producing new blood cells
Needless to say, bones play a key role in helping our bodies perform and thrive in more areas than you may realize! Tweet This! Many of us don’t think about bone and joint health until injury strikes, but keeping bones, joints and ligaments healthy and strong are important to the body’s overall health.
Let’s talk about some ways you can optimize your bone health.
Did you know we are actually born with approximately 300 bones? However, as we get older many of these bones fuse together, which is why the average adult has only 206 bones.
Bones are made of living connective tissue and therefore require constant blood flow for the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to stay viable. The hard, outer surface of each bone consists (primarily) of proteins known as collagen. Collagen is secreted by osteoblasts (bone cells which form new bone tissue) and makes up for approximately ⅓ of the weight of bone. The remainder of bone weight consists of minerals such as calcium. Calcium gives bone its hard texture, making it suitable to withstand weight-bearing activities.
Our bones go through a remodeling process approximately every 10 years, whereby old bone tissue is replaced with new tissue. The growth of bones is mostly regulated by various growth and sex hormones, in addition to genetic and dietary factors. Bone length increases at a rapid rate during adolescence; as we reach adulthood our bones no longer grow in length, but do continue to grow in mass, and increase in thickness (or width) based on the body’s needs.
Joints and Cartilage
The skeletal system also consists of joints, cartilage, ligaments and teeth. Every bone in the body, with the exception of the hyoid bone (found in the throat), is connected with one or more bones by way of a joint. Tweet This! Joints can be rigid and immovable (such as in the skull), slightly movable (like the spine), or movable (as in the knee and hip).
The main functions of our joints is to allow for various types of movements in the body. Some joints are comprised of collagen fibers, bands of cartilage or synovial fluid. Synovial joints are the most common and consist of an oily, lubricating fluid which helps to relieve friction, wear and tear.
Cartilage is the flexible, yet strong connective tissue found at the surface of joints, outer ear, nose, between ribs, and on the outer rings of our vocal cords. Cartilage is very beneficial for the body as it helps ease joint friction, acts like a shock absorber between bones, shapes the outer ear, provides movement for vocal cords and forms the growth template for bone development through childhood and adolescence. Most cartilage growth occurs during childhood and adolescent life stages.
Bone and Joint Health: The Facts
Gradual bone loss naturally occurs after the age of 40 – even for healthy adults. For some, the progression of bone loss can occur at a higher rate where the bones are weakened, making an individual more susceptible to bone fractures. This condition is known as osteoporosis. Although osteoporosis can occur at any age, older women are more at risk for developing the condition.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 24.5 percent of women in the U.S. over the age of 65 develop osteoporosis, compared to just 5.1 percent of men over the age of 65 (1). Tweet This!
Other risk factors include a history of smoking, genetics, low calcium or Vitamin D intake, hormonal imbalances and adopting a sedentary lifestyle. Because osteoporosis has no signs or symptoms until after an injury occurs, it is imperative that older adults consult with their physician to receive a bone mineral density test to ensure their bones are aging well.
Through constant usage – or, even under usage – our joints may become very stiff, inflamed and/or painful. Other causes of joint problems include autoimmune responses, bacterial or viral infections, family history and aging, to name a few. When cartilage is damaged or inflamed, it can also cause pain during movement.
Collectively, these conditions are known as arthritis. There are more than 100 different types, and according to the CDC 54.4 million (22.7 percent) of Americans have been diagnosed with some form of arthritis (2). The most common type of arthritis, osteoarthritis, is a condition caused by the breakdown and thinning of cartilage, causing friction in between bones. Along with injuries, unhealthy aging and being overweight are risk factors, which can increase risk for the development of osteoarthritis.
So, how do we preserve the health of our bones? Tweet This!
Though factors such as family history, aging, or gender can influence your risk for bone and joint conditions, there are things you can do to help lower your risk for development, such as eating a healthy and balanced diet and taking supplements to fill in nutritional gaps.
The skeletal system depends on many nutrients for the formation of bone, joints and cartilage. Minerals such as calcium are required for bone mineralization and the protection of bones from lead absorption. Incorporating a few servings of dark, leafy green vegetables into your daily diet can help your body’s calcium needs. Tweet This!
Phosphorous is also needed for the formation of bones by supporting the body in the utilization of vitamins and metabolism of food. Magnesium helps keep calcium dissolved in blood and is necessary for the body’s utilization of Vitamin D.
Trace minerals such as boron help metabolize calcium and magnesium for the maintenance of healthy bones, and may reduce the risk of osteoporosis in postmenopausal women. Vitamins, such as Vitamin D3 and K, are required by the body for increased absorption of calcium and phosphorous from foods. Other forms of supplementation like glucosamine and chondroitin can be useful to help protect – and even repair – joints from wear and tear.
More Prevention Tips
- Stay active. Along with eating a healthy and balanced diet, include at least 30 minutes of daily physical activity to support overall bone and joint health. Tweet This! Incorporate muscle and bone-strengthening activities such as resistance, running, and jumping exercises to help strengthens bones.
- Practice good posture (especially during computer usage) to help protect your joints and spine.
- For older adults, prevent fall hazards by removing clutter from homes, adding carpets/rugs to slippery floors to increase traction.
- Limiting alcohol consumption and avoiding smoking may help reduce your risk of developing bone and joint conditions.
Looker, AC & Frenk, SM. (2016, August 17). Percentage of Adults Aged 65 and Over With Osteoporosis or Low Bone Mass at the Femur Neck or Lumbar Spine: United States, 2005–2010. Retrieved October 17, 2017, from cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/osteoporosis.htm
National Statistics for Arthritis. (2017, March 06). Retrieved October 17, 2017, from cdc.gov/arthritis/data_statistics/national-statistics.htm