The following article was written by Amy Greenburg for the September 2021 issue of Expat Living Singapore.
Whether you realise it or not, what you do – and don’t do – every day can have a huge impact on your joint health. Here, orthopaedic and physiotherapy experts share five ways you could be harming your joints – and what to do differently.
#1 You’re barefoot all day, every day
For many of us, working from home has meant that being barefoot is the new normal. But, the more time we spend barefoot each day, the less protected our feet are. So, it’s no surprise that DR LIM CHIN TAT, senior consultant and orthopaedic surgeon at StarMed Specialist Centre, has been seeing more patients complain of heel and sole pain in the last year and a half.
“Before COVID, when working remotely from home wasn’t as common, we would spend at least 8 to 10 hours with our feet well protected by footwear,” he says. Now, with our feet unprotected for most of the day, it’s easier to develop plantar fasciitis (irritation of the connective tissue at the bottom of the feet) and inflammation of the Achilles tendon.
To avoid possible problems and pain, Dr Lim suggests wearing some form of footwear at home, and stretching the calf muscles regularly.
#2 You’re not moving enough
“The pandemic has also seen huge shifts in daily activity levels, with a 30 to 40 percent reduction in global physical activity,” says head of health services at UFIT Clinic, KYLE WILD. As a senior physiotherapist with a special interest in chronic aches and pains, tendon problems and injury risk reduction, he says our body’s tissues crave movement and the restorative effects that movement has. “Without it, your body gets cranky, grumpy and upset. It tells you this the only way it knows how – by giving you aches and pains to get you to move!”
Luckily, there are some simple changes you can make to incorporate more movement into your daily life. He suggests:
- Increasing your NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) levels; this is the energy you expend doing activities not related to sleeping, eating or exercise – for example, using a standing desk and stretching regularly while you’re working.
- Going for a daily walk. Even a 10-minute walk per day has huge advantages. Take a work call once a day while walking or take a short break and go for a stroll. You’ll likely get back to your desk feeling recharged and refreshed.
- Taking a five-minute break for every 25 minutes of work you do. Once every hour, use those five minutes to stretch, twist or move however you wish! Poor posture problems can also be solved by changes to your workstation, stretching, and incorporating more movement into your day. During the pandemic, Dr Lim has seen a significant increase in patients complaining about neck and back pain.
“Many of these patients admitted to not having proper workstations. And, to make matters worse, some of them use their laptop as their desk for long hours in an unhealthy posture – with their back slouched and neck bent forward,” he says.
#3 You’re doing too much, too soon
For many people, renewed motivation and focus on shifting the “lockdown weight gain” has meant starting a new workout with vigour. While the mind might be strong,” explains Kyle, “the joints are taken by surprise and are a bit slower on the uptake. Sometimes, this causes joint injuries that can derail the strongest of mindsets.”
A better approach, he says, would be to ease yourself into a new programme with a decisive approach, including activities that increase load on the joints.
“Start with lower impact exercises and gradually introduce more strenuous impact exercises. A coach can be worth their weight in gold here, as they can let you know when you can safely push, and when some restraint is in order.”
#4 You skimp on strength training
While cardiovascular exercise is certainly essential to our health, many people don’t realise that strength training is just as important. In fact, there’s a common misconception that strength training such as weightlifting can cause more pain to the joints.
Dr Lim suggests regularly alternating between strength training and cardio training. “Do about 150 minutes of low-intensity cardio exercise or 75minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per week, and perform strength training at least twice a week on non-consecutive days, and in different muscle groups.”
#5 You’re putting all your eggs in one basket
Just as strength training should be alternated with cardio, it’s important to mix up your fitness routine in general. While it’s great when you find a sport or hobby you love enough to spend a lot of time doing it, doing the same movements repetitively and continuously – and without exposing the body to other types of movements – can lead to “overuse injuries” of the joints and tendons, explains Kyle. The solution, he says, is cross training. This is essentially making time for other activities that might complement your regular routine; for example, strength training for runners, yoga for weightlifters and rock climbing for swimmers.
“Cross-training gives your body ‘rest’ from the usual repetitive stresses, but also provides stimulation to strengthen the ‘accessory muscles’ to your related activity; this, in turn, reduces your risk of injury.”
If you have further questions with regards to muscle or joint pain, feel free to drop Dr Lim Chin Tat an email at Chintat.Lim@starmedspecialist.com. You may also book an appointment with us here or by giving us a call at 6322 6333.