An upright posture, walking, standing, gripping and much more would not be possible without our cartilage and bones, muscles and joints. Together, they make up our body’s locomotor system, which has to cope with a huge range of different responsibilities and enables us to move about easily.
Joints are the movable connection between two bones. To ensure that the two joint surfaces do not rub against one another when they move, these surfaces are covered in a smooth protective layer of cartilage. This joint cartilage is only 1 to 5 mm thick, depending on the type of joint. It is closely connected to the joint’s bone and, thanks to its water-absorbing characteristics, it functions in a similar way to an elastic buffer or shock absorber. It absorbs the pressure and distributes it evenly over the bone.
As there are only a small number of cells in the cartilage, the metabolism and the related cartilage formation progress very slowly.
In the same way as a hinge, the joints also require enough lubrication to ensure that the surfaces do not rub against each other when they move. This joint lubrication, which is also called joint fluid (synovial fluid), is produced by the synovial membrane. It is also the responsibility of the synovial fluid to supply the cartilage with important nutrients and to remove end products of metabolism. The joint lubrication mainly consists of hyaluronic acid, proteins, sugar and water.
To ensure that exercise remains fun in the long term, we must take care to maintain the health in particular of our joints, cartilage and bones. And there is a lot that can be done: light exercise strengthens the muscles, puts less pressure on the cartilage and helps to improve bone stability. Your overall physical fitness improves, which in turn has a positive effect on your general well-being.
Healthy food for healthy joints
A well-balanced diet is important to ensure that the joints receive a good supply of nutrients that actively sustain the cartilage and bones. It is particularly good for both the cartilage and the bones if your diet is rich in vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin K and calcium. Vitamin C contributes to normal collagen formation for the normal functioning of cartilage and bones. And calcium is required for the maintenance of normal bones. Vitamins D and K, and also zinc and manganese contribute to the maintenance of normal bones.
Important nutrients for the joints
Certain cartilage constituents are especially important; these are glucosamine sulphate, chondroitin sulphate, hyaluronic acid and collagen. They are found in the normal cartilage tissue and in the joint fluid, and are closely connected with each other in the cartilage metabolism. Glucosamine is an amino sugar which is found in the body in hyaluronic acid, for instance. The important constituents of the cartilage matrix also include chondroitin sulphate. The joint fluid contains a particularly large amount of hyaluronic acid, a long-chain molecule.
How do the nutrients enter the joints?
As the cartilage is not connected to the blood circulation system, it receives its supply from the joint fluid (synovial fluid) which is situated in the intra-articular space between the two joint surfaces. In this process, when it is under strain, the cartilage is squeezed like a sponge; new joint fluid that is rich in nutrients is then absorbed by the cartilage when the strain is relieved. A regular changeover between applying and relieving strain, and a diet which supplies a sufficient amount of nutrients that actively sustain the joints, therefore contribute to maintaining healthy cartilage.
Exercise with reduced pressure on your joints: basic tips
Well-balanced physical activity is more suitable for maintaining healthy cartilage than sports that involve extreme strain or jumping, energetic twisting or rapid changes of direction. Smooth movements without using force are ideal as the joints are moved evenly throughout their whole range of motion.