Have you coasted through your lifting game thinking you were freakin’ superwoman, until one day you very rudely became aware you aren’t? Because that was me until I hit about the age of 40 and from then on things injury-wise has really unravelled. And the culprit attempting to curb all my dreams isn’t my nervous system, it’s certainly not my muscles — it’s those pesky things called joints!
Joints are the areas where two or more bones meet. Most joints are mobile, allowing the bones to move. Joints consist of the following: cartilage, synovial, membrane, ligaments, tendons, bursas, synovial fluid and sometimes meniscus. We really need to take care of our joints in order to stay injury free, to stay healthy, to lift, certainly to lift heavy, and to prolong our longevity in the iron game.
My powerlifting journey began quickly at an older age (46) to elite, world level and I had to go on a steep learning curve about a whole host of things that I wish I had paid attention to when I was much younger, joint-related. So, I now have a pretty good bag of tricks to help keep joint integrity and I shall share those tips with you now so that you can hopefully avoid time out of the gym, because we all know how stressful and anxious that can make us feel. So please, read on!
My first hot tip is to start to incorporate flaxseeds and flaxseed oil into your diet. Now flax has numerous benefits besides joint health and is the cornerstone of most of my nutrition plan. We MUST consume what’s known as essential fats. If we don’t, worst case scenario, we die. Unlike protein and carbohydrates, our bodies cannot manufacture essential fats so we must get it via our nutrition. Now here is some fascinating information. Here in Australia, the average Australian has a ratio of omega6’s to omega 3’s of around 25-50: 1 (6’s to 3’s). So, I would imagine that America would be similar if not higher. Guess what the medical profession wants our ratio to be? 4:1. Why is this is a problem? Because, again, the medical profession knows unconditionally that the ratio discrepancy between omega 6’s and omega 3’s is a direct cause of our five top diseases: heart disease, diabetes, cancer, obesity and all auto-immune diseases. These diseases collectively are known as INFLAMMATORY diseases. So, what are omega 3’s primary role? To de-flame our bodies. So already you can see that there are a lot of people walking around highly inflamed!
What are our top sources of nutritional omega 3’s then? Top of the list is flaxseed oil and flaxseeds. Then we have our deep-sea fishes such as salmon and mackerel. Walnuts are a superb source of omega 3’s, hence I rate them over something like almonds, and dark green leafies but of course the problem with them is you need to eat a paddock full to get your quota of omega 3’s. So, omega 3’s will help deflammation of your joints and also aid in the promotion of synovial fluid and therefore joint mobility — clearly very important to us weight lifters.
My second biggest go-to to take care of my joints is easily myotherapy. Until the age of 41 I had never seen a physio, myotherapist or osteopath. I had never needed allied health professionals. Now I have a regular weekly myotherapy session without negotiation, it’s set in stone. I see it as absolutely imperative to be the best lifter I can be. Myotherapy can do all kinds of things for joint mobility. Joint mobilisation involves passive gliding of joints to improve movement and normalise joint function.
When you’re tight it affects the way the muscles act on the joint. So, give you an example you might relate to, if your Glute Medius tight, often because it’s weak then that will pull your femur up to the acetabulum, so that’s going to affect your ROM (range of motion) by reducing it so it affects things squat depth. This is one of the very reasons why I’m religious about seeing my myotherapist weekly. Myotherapy can pull bones away from where they are in a joint — so affect and improve how bones move. Dry needling, which some myotherapists use, causes damage which means the body sends its soldiers (fibroblasts) to engage myofibrils to heal and rejuvenate. It can help cause calcium to go away and magnesium to come in to the muscles and relax them.
Contrast therapy is my next go to for both joints and muscles. Now girls, I know — I absolutely know, the thought of it sends chills to your bones. It did to me too. But, after my very first novice powerlifting competition I had only just gotten in my car to drive home (an hour away) and I could already feel the DOMS in my lower back — and I could tell it was next level. My partner at the time who had been a long-time advocate of contrast therapy stopped at a petrol station and just bought six bags of ice and I could tell there was no getting out of it this time.
For those of you unfamiliar with contrast therapy, it is switching between cold and hot water. It is often used by many, many athletes and fitness enthusiasts, and is a popular rehabilitation and recovery technique that has its roots in ancient naturopathic medicine. Some of the cited benefits of it include the following: improved circulation, decreased swelling, significant improvements in deflammation, increased range of motion, substantial reduction in DOMS, increased energy and alertness and improved mood. I mean come on, if you jump in a bath full of ICE how can you NOT become fully alert?
What do you actually do? Well, there are a few different ways but the way I was taught was to use the ice bath first. You do three minutes in there, making sure your shoulders are completely submerged. So, yup, you have to be right in there, no just poking your sore knee in there. Get on in. Then, you switch to three minutes of a hot shower. Back into the bath for three minutes, back into the shower for a further three minutes and then you finish with the ice bath for a final three minutes.
I won’t sugarcoat it. It takes your breath away when you first get in. It’s cold! Have some of your favourite music pumping, or if you have a partner, get them to tell you a story or something to distract you. The second and third time will be less of a shock as the ice has begun to melt. It’s still cold but it’s the first one that hits you. But if you are going to do it, do it properly. I could NOT believe how quickly my lower back began to respond. An hour later it was already feeling better. The next day it was pretty much fine. The only thing was I was chilled to the bone despite my pj’s and a fluffy dressing gown. Make sure your house is nice and warm. But look, once you buy the bags of ICE it’s a done deal, you HAVE to do it, so just purchase the ICE, that’s my best advice.
I use it sparingly — when I am really aching, joints are angry, like if my tennis elbows are screaming at me, or the DOMS (usually after a comp) is ridiculous. You’re going to thank me for this advice, you really will.
My next go-to with joint pain and flare-ups which I use more as a precaution rather than a remedy is I take glutamine. Glutamine is part of my ‘Holy Trinity’, three supplements I just would never dream of not using. Glutamine is the primary fuel that powers all facets of immune function. It is essential to the replication/regeneration of cells that line our 20-foot long GI tract (a process that occurs every three hours). To most organs glutamine serves three roles: 1) the major amino acid essential for detoxification (reducing toxic levels of ammonia). 2) A source of amide nitrogen for biosynthesis of peptides and amino sugars, and 3) the formation of purines and pyrimidines; the building blocks of RNA and DNA.
In the liver glutamine is also used for glucose and urea synthesis. In the kidneys glutamine is used to support renal ammoniagenesis, while the brain utilises glutamine as a precursor for neurotransmitter substances. Muscle tissue is the main reservoir that meets all demands. Protein kinetic studies reveal that without this de novo synthesis within muscle, the body would run out of glutamine in seven hours or less! Supplementation is shown to elevate plasma glutamine and restore some aspects of immune function, pro-mote muscle glycogen synthesis and elevate circulating GH levels.
Anything that is so important to your immune system is going to help indirectly or directly to support your joints and your muscles. I would suggest that you take it as I do. I take a heaped teaspoon first thing in the morning with breakfast (or your first meal of the day). Take another heaped teaspoon in your post-workout shake, and finally have another third and final heaped teaspoon of an evening before bed. I strongly suggest you make glutamine a staple in your nutrition regime.
Tumeric is certainly something that you can add to your food to boost your meals antiflmmatory properties. It is an Indian spice, yellow in colour and popularly used in curries. Curcumin, the active chemical in turmeric has been shown to be anti-inflammaotory and to be helpful with conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.