Complete Guide to Joint Health: Understanding and Enhancing Your Joint Health

Written by: Christine VanDoren, nutritionist

Fact checked by: Kelsey Butler, RDN

man running at the beach

Joint health is the optimal function and condition of the body joints, which are physical connections between bones that enable support and movement. You see, your entire musculoskeletal system is made up of bones and muscles, which are linked by joints with the aid of fibrous connective tissue like ligaments, tendons, and cartilage. 

To properly connect the bones in the body and foster movement, joints must function optimally and be in good condition. Therefore, understanding and enhancing your joint health is essential to enable fluid motion, especially during exercise. Continue reading to learn how to make your joints perform at their best, both in the long and short term. 

Understanding Joints

Joints connect bones, but there are different types of joints throughout the human body, and they do not all perform this basic function in the same way. Here’s a breakdown of the three broad types of joints, how they function, and their specific roles.

Synovial Joints

These joints are the most common and most mobile type in the body. In synovial joints, one bone usually has a cavity that the other bone slips right into, and slippery hyaline cartilage coats the bones’ ends. To provide more lubrication and enhanced movement, a synovial membrane also coats the space between the bones. 

These features are what make synovial joints the most movable in the body. They have enough lubrication to move without friction, and their very make-up (one bone fitting into the other) allows them to move in the directions that other joints can’t. Synovial joints are further broken down into the following types of joints: 

  • Hinge Joints: These only allow movement in one direction. As the name implies, they open and close like a hinge. Think about a door — that’s how hinge joints work. Examples are your knees and elbows. 
  • Ball and Socket Joints: Ball and socket joints can move in multiple directions. They are made in a way that the circular end of one bone slips into a depression in another. Good examples of ball and socket joints are your shoulders and hips. 
  • Pivot Joints: Pivot joints enable rotational movement along a single axis, so they can rotate while maintaining their root position. A perfect example is the joint in the neck. 
  • Saddle Joints: Saddle joints are created when the curved parts of two curved bones meet each other. Each curve can move along the other curve’s U-shaped plane, but it cannot rotate or twist in another direction. Saddle joints are modeled after a horse’s saddle with a rider fitting into it. That’s what their mechanism looks like. A perfect example is the joint that connects your thumb to your hand. 
  • Planar/Gliding Joints: Planar joints join two flat bones. They instigate movement by allowing one bone to glide over the other without any rotation. The joints between the tarsal bones that contribute to the foot’s flexibility are perfect examples of planar/gliding joints. 
  • Condyloid Joints: Like in ball and socket joints, condyloid joints have the circular end of one bone slip into a depression in another. However, they can only move in two planes and do not allow rotational movement. Examples are the wrists and knuckles. 

Fibrous Joints

Fibrous joints are characterized by dense fibrous connective tissue. You can find them in areas of the body where stability and protection are emphasized over mobility. The fibrous tissue, which is mostly made of collagen, rigidly holds the bones together, allowing minimal to no movement. 

There are three types of fibrous joints — here’s a rundown of each of them:

  • Sutures: These joints are only found in the skull, where bones are joined together and held in place by fibrous tissue. 
  • Syndesmoses: This type of fibrous joint allows for more mobility because longer strands of fibrous tissue connect the bones. A good example is the distal tibiofibular joint, which connects the fibula and tibia above the ankle. It allows minimal movement but is just enough to provide stability and enable the ankle to absorb impact during activities like running and walking. 
  • Gomphoses: These joints are like socket joints, where one oval head of a joint slips right into the other. However, they don’t allow movement. An example would be the joint that connects the teeth to the jawbone. 

Cartilaginous Joints

Cartilaginous joints simply consist of bones bound by cartilage, and they typically allow more movement than fibrous joints but are not synovial-joint flexible. They are divided into the following two types: 

  • Synchondroses: These joints connect bones using hyaline cartilage. A good example is the joint between the first rib and the manubrium of the sternum. 
  • Symphyses: These cartilaginous joints are connected by fibrocartilage and are designed to resist tension and compression. A popular example of these joints is the pubic symphysis, which is located between the left and right pubic bones. 

Factors Affecting Joint Health


Just like it affects most systems in the body, aging also impacts joint health. As individuals age, cartilage, which cushions the joints, undergoes wear and tear and general thinning. This wear and tear then contributes to reduced shock absorption and increased friction in the joints. Research has shown that this is caused by a reduction in the concentration and size of proteoglycans, which are proteins that help joint tissue to resist compressional forces. 

Aging also causes changes in the composition and viscosity of synovial fluid, reducing its efficiency in lubricating joint tissue and transporting nutrients to cartilage. Additionally, changes in bone density happen with aging. This leads to altered stress distribution on cartilage supporting bones and joints, making them wear down. 

Another impact of age on joint health is a reduction in the ability to maintain cartilage. This happens because the chondrocytes, the cells responsible for maintaining cartilage, are less active. Research shows that this inactivity could manifest as joint discomfort as individuals get older. 

Nutritional Inadequacies

There are various nutrients that support bone and joint health. When their intake levels are lacking from one’s diet for an extended period, it may result in low joint health. Some of these nutrients are calcium, vitamin D, Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin C, vitamin E, and protein. 

Vitamin C, for example, is crucial in synthesizing collagen, and an inadequacy could affect joint structure and function. Protein is also important in upholding the musculoskeletal system. When a person does not eat enough, it could affect joint stability and function. 


Inactivity has been proven to profoundly impact joint health. Muscles support and stabilize the joints, and without regular exercise, muscles can weaken. This could increase joint strain and the risk of wear and tear. Regular movement also helps to lubricate the joints by ensuring the distribution of synovial fluid. So, without exercise, the joints would have less lubrication, causing increased friction and possible aches in the long term. 

Physical inactivity also usually results in weight gain, which puts additional pressure on joints such as the hips, knees, and spine.

Signs Your Joints Need Some Extra Care

If you experience discomfort during or after movement or even at rest, it may be an indication that your joints need more attention. 

Stiffness in the joints also means your joints may need more care. Usually, stiffness happens when you haven’t engaged in physical activity for a while. If your stiffness improves with movement, you may just need more physical activity in your routine.  

Nutrition for Healthy Joints

Seeing as nutritional inadequacies can instigate joint wear and tear, it is expedient to consume nutrients that are essential to joint health in so many ways. 

Omega-3 fatty acids are known to have antioxidant benefits, and research confirms that they are instrumental in easing joint discomfort. You can obtain them from fish like salmon, brussels sprouts, and flaxseed. 

Calcium is an essential mineral for bone strength, and you can find it in dairy products like yogurt, milk, and cheese, not to mention green vegetables and almonds. 

Vitamin D helps with calcium absorption, and one of the most popular ways to obtain this nutrient is sunlight exposure in the morning. You can also obtain vitamin D from fish, egg yolks, oranges, and milk.

Vitamin C is an essential nutrient for collagen synthesis, which makes cartilage function better. Citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruits and vegetables like bell peppers and tomatoes are great ways to ingest this micronutrient. 

Vitamin K regulates bone mineralization and can be found in leafy vegetables. 

Magnesium aids bone formation and can be found in nuts and whole grains. 

Are there foods that can detract from great joint health? Yes, there are. Examples are artificial additives, trans fats, ultra-processed sugary foods, and excessive salt. Yes, some of these foods may still find their way into our diet occasionally, but you should try to consume them in moderation.

Exercise and Joint Health

In many cases, the simple solution to joint aches and wear is increased exercise and physical activity. A paper has presented various benefits of exercise for people living with joint discomfort, prescribing physical activity for such populations. 

If you already experience joint discomfort, you have to start small. Low-impact exercise options like walking and cycling are just fine in the beginning. As time goes on, it is also expedient to incorporate weight training, as it keeps your muscles strong and allows you to train your joints through the required range of motion with some resistance. 

Protecting Joint Health

There are quite a number of safe practices to protect joint health, both in the short and long term, apart from the basics like regular exercise and optimal nutrition. They include the following: 

  • Maintain Good Posture: Doing this reduces the strain on important joints like the ones in your neck, back, and knees. When standing, sitting, or lifting heavy objects, pay attention to your body’s alignment and only move in ways that feel natural. 
  • Avoid Repetitive Stress on Your Joints: Putting stress on your joints through repeated movements can strain them. If you have a job or hobby that requires such movements, it is advantageous to take breaks when you can to reduce the risk of overuse injuries. 
  • Use Proper Technique When Lifting Heavy Objects: In your day-to-day life, when picking things from the ground, try to bend at your knees instead of your back to reduce the strain on your spinal joints. Also, try to keep your shoulders retracted and relaxed when moving heavy accessories from one point to another. 
  • Try to Keep Your Stress Levels Low: Stress can negatively affect joint health. Tips for reducing stress include prioritizing sleep and practicing meditation, yoga, and deep breathing exercises. 

Supplements for Joint Health

Nutrition is essential to joint health. However, if you feel your nutrition is lacking and you're looking to maintain long-term joint health, supplements can help. There are many supplements that help joints perform at their best. 

Firstly, most of the nutrients that are essential for joint health can be ingested in the form of supplements. So, for improved joint health, you could take calcium, vitamin D, and Omega-3 fatty acid supplements. Other recommended joint health supplements are hyaluronic acid, which aids with joint lubrication, methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), chondroitin, glucosamine, collagen, Boswellia serrata (Indian Frankincense), and curcumin. As always, it's important to consult a healthcare professional before adding any new supplement to your routine. 

Miscellaneous Tips for Joint Health

A good amount of the general health and fitness advice that medical professionals have to offer also applies to joint health. One such piece of advice is to always stay hydrated, as water helps synovial fluid move smoothly and maintain proper volume and viscosity. Water also facilitates nutrient transport to joint tissue and fosters cartilage health. 

Another miscellaneous tip for joint health is maintaining a healthy weight. As mentioned above, weight gain could put extra strain on joints like the hips and spine, causing even more wear and tear. Maintaining a healthy weight can be achieved through regular exercise and a balanced diet consisting of natural, whole foods, which are all directly instrumental to maintaining joint health. So, it’s likely that regular resistance exercise and optimal nutrition for the purpose of maintaining a healthy weight will also result in great joint health. 


There are many factors affecting joint health, like age, nutritional inadequacies, and inactivity. While aging cannot be stopped, its effects on the joints can be mitigated by eating the right nutrients and regular exercise. 

Signs of wear and tear in the joints include stiffness and discomfort. However, you should not wait till you experience any of these before you start taking care of your joints. Be proactive about it. 

What can you do for joint health apart from eating the right nutrients and exercising? Staying hydrated, maintaining good posture during everyday activities, avoiding repetitive stress on the joints, and keeping stress levels low will contribute to joint health in one way or another. You could also supplement with substances like collagen and Omega-3 fatty acids. All these, combined with exercise and eating the right nutrients, are sure to enhance your joint health.


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