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"If a joint has a serious injury, it destabilizes it and can disrupt cartilage, so you don't have a smooth gliding surface anymore," says Alex Scott, an assistant professor in the physical therapy department at the University of British Columbia and a researcher at the Centre for Hip Health and Mobility. The result? "It accelerates the wear and tear process because you've got rough edges and increased load through the cartilage."
The best way to prevent injuries? Strengthen the muscles around your joints. Your core and glutes are particularly important muscles for protecting joints, says Maria Kristina Antonious, a registered physiotherapist and a clinic director at Pro Physio in Ottawa. Here's what you need to know about strengthening the muscles that protect your lower-body joints.
Challenge your core
Is your core strong enough to keep your joints safe? "I’ve seen people who have six packs but have the worst core muscles," says Antonious. That's because it's your transverse abdominis, the deepest abdominal muscle, that matters most. It's the muscle that gives you core stability.
To find out if yours can pull its weight, lie on your back, then lift your legs off the floor, keeping your knees straight. If your back remains flat, you've got a strong core, but if you find your back curving, your transverse abdominis is too weak to control your pelvis. Build those core muscles with planks, pushups and yoga moves that require balance.
Build your glutes
The gluteus medius is a muscle in your bum that stabilizes your pelvis, preventing your hip from dropping dangerously with each step. But yours could be weak without you even knowing it.
"Many people don't use their glutes as much as they should, and so they put the weight on their hamstring," says Antonious. If you're sitting all day, you might be one of them; that position leads to weak glutes and tight hamstrings.
To find out for sure, lie on your stomach and bend one knee so your heel points toward the ceiling. Then, lift your leg straight up. If your leg naturally moves out to the side on its way up, your glutes aren't strong enough and you're compensating with muscles on the outside of your leg. Strengthen your glutes by doing bridges: Lying on your back with your knees bent, squeeze and lift your bum, raising your back off the ground but keeping it straight, with your arms and shoulders on the ground.