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Exercises for Joint Pain


Joint pain can be the result of numerous factors, a lack of activity, age, poor technique when training, or an underlying injury. So instead of trying to treat joint pain, this article will look at preventative exercises for joint pain.

Our society is always looking to treat current problems rather than prevent future problems from occurring in the first place. By performing certain exercises, or by changing the technique of other exercises we can look to prevent joint pain from occurring rather than deal with the fall out in 10 years’ time.

So What Are Joints?


Joints are basically a connection between two bones, there are divided into how they are made up:

  1. Immovable (called Synarthroses)

  2. Slightly Moveable (called Amphiarthroses)

  3. Very moveable (called Diarthrosis)

They are also divided by how they are made up:

  1. Fibrous Joints (immovable)

  2. Cartilaginous Joints (slightly moveable)

  3. Synovial Joints (very moveable)

You are very unlikely to feel any joint pain in fibrous joints as they are fixed and don't provide movement. For example, these joints would be connecting parts of the skull together. It's the same story with Cartilaginous joints which due to their limited range of movement are unlikely to cause pain. The main Cartilaginous joints are the intervertebral disks which are found in the spine.

So the joints we will be looking at are the Synovial joints which are highly moveable. Think of your elbow, knee, shoulder, or even your wrist. They can produce a large range of movement, and are also the most common causes of injury there are.

So How Can We Prevent Joint Pain?


  1. Lose weight - The simple fact is that the less weight you are carrying around with you, the less likely you are to get injured. Too much body fat can put immense stress on the joints, eating a healthy diet (while creating a calorie deficit) will lead to weight loss and then less joint pain.

  2. Exercise Regularly - Putting the joints through their range of motion on a regular basis will help keep them supple rather than stiff. This will prevent injury in the future, how often have you seen people get injured after playing football for the first time in 10 years?

  3. Perform Exercises Properly - Bad technique will cause joint pain and injury, think about a badly performed bench press. The grip is too wide and the elbows are flared out too much, suddenly the lifter has a shoulder injury and acts surprised. They shouldn't be, bad technique is a huge cause of joint pain and injury.

  4. Get Stronger - Conversely, performing the exercises safely and with good technique will strengthen the joints and help protect them.

  5. Walk More - If you can't exercise for whatever reason, then simply walking more will help. It ticks all of the above boxes. It will help you lose weight, it is a form of regular exercise, it is almost impossible to walk with bad technique, and it will get you stronger. Even if you are already exercising in a gym, increasing your daily steps will have many benefits.

  6. Perform Accessory Exercises - Performing the following accessory exercises will help strengthen the joints, and prevent joint pain in the future.

Three Exercises for Joint Pain


So here are three accessory exercises that you can perform as part of your gym workout, just add a couple sets of each exercise here and there into your session and you should receive a range of benefits. The most important of which will be a reduction in the likelihood of getting an injury, but better posture, and improved sporting/weight lifting performance are also high on the list.

Exercise One: Face Pulls


This exercise is a fantastic all-around exercise for the Posterior (rear) delts, the Upper Trapezius, the Teres Major/Minor, and the Infraspinatus. These muscles all work around the shoulder joint. The shoulder joint is particularly susceptible to gym-related injury, due to a large amount of pressing exercises performed there. The bench press, push press, seated shoulder press, and push ups all place a lot of strain on the shoulder. This exercise will redress the balance, and help prevent shoulder injuries, by strengthening the muscles that stabilise the shoulder during a pressing movement.

Grab a rope attachment and place on a high pulley cable. Take a couple of big steps back so there is some slack in the cable and then pull the rope handles back and towards you face. Each handle should be passing the outside of each ear, and the centre of the rope should be aiming for your forehead. Keep your elbows nice and high throughout, and use a weight where you can accomplish this without having to move your body to gain some extra momentum. Only go as far back as you can comfortably, some of you will have poor range of motion (especially bodybuilders) so try not to force the exercise. This will actually worsen the situation, be patient and slowly your range of motion will improve significantly.

Exercise Two: Rear Delt Flies


A very similar exercise to face pulls with similar desired results, the rear delt fly is designed to strengthen the Posterior (rear) Deltoid, Middle Deltoid, and the Anterior (front) deltoid (with an obvious emphasis on the rear delts - hence the name). It also works the Infraspinatus, Teres Minor, Rhomboid, and Trapezius muscles.

But this exercise differs in that it is more focused on the external rotation of the arm than the face pull which is designed to counter-act pushing movements. Think of movements such as spreading your arms as wide as you can, or reaching out and catching a baseball that is quite wide away from you.

There are quite a few variations of this exercise, but this article will be looking at the dumbbell version as it is the most common. Lie face down on a 45-degree incline bench, with your arms straight down towards the floor, in each hand hold a light dumbbell. Brace your upper back so that it is flat and tight, and then draw your arms out wide until you feel the stretch at the back of your shoulders. Pause, and then lower the weights back down towards the ground. Think of this movement as a giant over-enthusiastic hand clap.

Exercise Three: The Deep Squat


Here is an exercise that will help prevent knee pain, or even knee injury. It will also help prevent hip pain. It's a good idea to do this exercise before deadlifts or barbell squats, but also it can be done at home as part of a joint pain prevention program.

Essentially this is just a bodyweight squat. But your feet will be wider than usual and instead of lowering yourself down and then immediately raising yourself back up again, you will pause at the bottom of the movement for around 10 - 15 seconds.

Place your feet wider than shoulder-width apart, and squat down until you are as low as possible. Don't worry if your back loses its straight position slightly, so long as this is a bodyweight exercise and you are not placing any load on it (dumbbells, barbells etc.) you will benefit from this.

Pause at the bottom and use your elbows to push your knees outwards slightly, this should cause a stretch in your inner and outer thigh area. Keep this stretch going for around 10 - 15 seconds, then bring yourself back up.

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