Cartilage provides much of the cushioning between bones, particularly at the joints. Both heavy aerobic exercise and heavy weightlifting can wear down cartilage over time, as the repeated impacts at the joints damage the soft tissue. Bodybuilders run into this problem in the upper body, as their low-rep, high-weight regimens, designed to build muscle mass, wear away cartilage in the process.
The good news is that this is not an irreversible process. It is indeed possible not only to maintain the cartilage that you have while executing an exercise program, but also to add to the cartilage that is already there, both through workout techniques and health supplements.
Adding Cartilage in the Gym. If you’re lifting weights that only allow you to do between four and eight reps, your cartilage will break down over time. The heavy weight causes molecules called cytokines to send out chemicals that actually break apart the cartilage; this is similar to the process that causes arthritis.
Every now and then, even the most massive lifters need to work in workouts at lighter weight – weight with which you can perform 15 to 20 reps. Lighter weights in your workouts keep your cytokines from sending out the attackers, and your cartilage has time to heal itself between workouts, and it will naturally regenerate – and rebuild.
The Power of Supplements. Two supplements that can complement your exercise therapy are glucosamine and chondroitin. Glucosamine contains molecules that your cartilage needs to repair and rebuild itself. Chondroitin is actually an ingredient of cartilage – the ingredient that gives your cartilage its pliability. Taken together, these supplements give your body the materials it needs to create cartilage, much like the bricks and mortar that construction workers need to build a wall.
Scientific studies are still in the works on the effectiveness of these supplements when it comes to the actual construction of cartilage. Studies have indicated that these supplements can reduce pain associated with cartilage deterioration, and can retard the deterioration process. Since your body will naturally repair and replenish cartilage tissue, just slowing the process somewhat is an important beginning.
If you’re worried about cartilage deterioration in your joints, the place to begin is in your primary care physician’s office. There, you may receive a referral to an orthopedist or a rheumatologist, depending on whether your pain is related to an injury or to a rheumatic condition like arthritis. When you meet with your specialist, talk about exercise and natural supplement based therapies that will help you overcome the damage to your cartilage.