Healthspan staff September 11, 2018

Whether it’s as a result of injury or just ageing, experiencing a loss of joint mobility can lead to stiffness in your joints, poor balance, and being more susceptible to sprains. Mobility in your joints is defined as how far a joint is able to move before the surrounding tissues restrict, and a loss of it can occur for a host of reasons: including inflexibility, weakened muscles, soft tissue damage and issues with related joints.1

If you do have issues with your joint mobility, it doesn’t have to be permanent. There are a number of natural solutions, ranging from exercises and stretches that can loosen the muscles, to nutrients such as fish oil. Here, we’ll take a closer look at what affects joint mobility, and how fish oil in particular can help to improve it.

Why is joint mobility important?

Joint mobility influences the activity, posture and movement of the body. If you have a joint that is limited in mobility, it can significantly alter the way that you move your body.2 This can ultimately lead to muscle imbalances and problems such as arthritis of the joint, loss of balance, increased risk of falls and chronic pain.3

One of the most common causes of joint mobility is the ageing process. Over our lifespan, changes occur in the structure of the joint and its surrounding tissues. The amount of lubricating fluid in the joints decrease and the cartilage becomes thinner — both factors that can impair the movement of the joints.4

The mobility of joints isn’t just a concern for those who are older, though. A number of other factors, like experiencing musculoskeletal injuries, consuming nutrient-poor diets and working in a high-impact job, can all affect joint health in those of every age.

What can increase joint mobility?

As soft tissue flexibility can play a role in joint mobility, it’s well worth taking steps to increase it. There are a number of ways of doing this, but one relatively easy way is through stretching exercises. In fact, research has shown that stretching one part of the body can have a positive impact on other parts. If you’re trying to stretch your hip, for instance, then not only can hip stretches be beneficial, but because secondary muscles can impact limited joints, so can upper body stretches.5

Consider including stretching into your exercise regime both before and after your session.6 Dynamic stretching — stretches done as part of a movement — are best for pre-workout stretching, as they help to warm up the muscles and avoid injury. More static stretches that are done with little to no movement are better suited to after exercise, as the muscles are already warm.7

Foam rolling is another popular method for supporting muscle and joint health. When you use a foam roller, you’re essentially giving yourself a massage and releasing tension in the muscles. Research also confirms that using a foam roller can enhance the range of movement of a joint, which improves mobility, so it might be worth investing in one.8

Above all, it may be best to consult a qualified musculoskeletal practitioner such as a physiotherapist, as they can assess your joint mobility and personalise a supportive exercise and treatment program to address any concerns.

Fish oil and joint mobility

When it comes to managing joint mobility through diet, one supplement that’s worth considering is fish oil. As the name suggests, fish oil is sourced from fish, and is a natural source of omega-3 fatty acids, including EPA and DHA. The main feature that omega-3s are known for is their anti-inflammatory properties, through which they have a two-fold impact on inflammation in the body: they’re able to suppress the production of inflammatory compounds, and also favour the anti-inflammatory pathways.9

Fish oil isn’t limited to reducing inflammation. Recent research suggests that taking a fish oil supplement containing 750mg EPA and 50mg DHA can aid in recovery from exercise-induced muscle damage, meaning that joint mobility impairment caused by muscle damage could be alleviated using fish oil.10 What’s more, another study showed that omega-3 fatty acids can reduce cartilage destruction by modulating the inflammatory factors and degradation that cause damage to the joint.11

In terms of joint health, there’s varied evidence on the effectiveness of fish oil in improving it. One review found that dosages of 2.7g or more per day are therapeutic for stiffness and discomfort in inflammatory joint conditions, while the European Food Safety Authority has stated that doses up to 5g per day appear to be safe long-term.12,13 However, this dose may not be necessary for someone who is experiencing reduced joint mobility without an underlying condition.

You can also get the omega-3 from fish oil from food, including various fish like salmon, tuna, and sardines. Dietary guidelines from the British Dietetic Association recommend at least 1 serving of fatty fish per week, though in order to consume enough omega-3s to support specific health benefits, you may wish to consume 2-3 servings per week.14

If you’re interested in learning more about how to keep your joints healthy, head over to our advice centre for more information.


References
Guccione, A. A., Avers, D., and Wong, R. (2011). Geriatric Physical Therapy. Missouri: Elsevier Health Sciences.
Guccione, A. A., Avers, D., and Wong, R. (2011). Geriatric Physical Therapy. Missouri: Elsevier Health Sciences.
Guccione, A. A., Avers, D., and Wong, R. (2011). Geriatric Physical Therapy. Missouri: Elsevier Health Sciences.
Loeser, R. F. (2010). Age-related changes in the musculoskeletal system and the development of osteoarthritis. Clinics in geriatric medicine, 26(03).
Moreside, J. M., and McGill, S. M. (2012). Hip joint range of motion improvements using three different interventions. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 26(05).
NHS. (2016). How to improve your strength and flexibility. NHS.
Kuzmits, F. E., and Adams, A. J. (2008). The NFL combine: does it predict performance in the National Football League? The Journal of strength & conditioning research, 22(06).
Cheatham, S. W., Kolber, M. J., Cain, M., and Lee, M. (2015). The effects of self‐myofascial release using a foam roll or roller massager on joint range of motion, muscle recovery, and performance: a systematic review. International journal of sports physical therapy, 10(06).
Akbar, U., Yang, M., Kurian, D., and Mohan, C., 2017. Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Rheumatic Diseases: A Critical Review. JCR: Journal of Clinical Rheumatology, 23(06).
10 Jakeman, J. R., Lambrick, D. M., Wooley, B., Babraj, J. A., and Faulkner, J. A. (2017). Effect of an acute dose of omega-3 fish oil following exercise-induced muscle damage. European journal of applied physiology, 117(03).
11 Curtis, C. L., Hughes, C. E., Flannery, C. R., et al. (2000). n-3 fatty acids specifically modulate catabolic factors involved in articular cartilage degradation. Journal of Biological Chemistry, 275(02).
12 Goldberg, R. J., and Katz, J. (2007). A meta-analysis of the analgesic effects of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation for inflammatory joint pain. Pain, 129(01-02).
13 Agostoni, C., Bresson, J., Fairweather-Tait, S., et al. (2012). Scientific opinion on the tolerable upper intake level of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and docosapentaenoic acid (DPA): EFSA panel on dietetic products, nutrition and allergies (NDA). THE EFSA JOURNAL, 10(07).
14 British Dietetic Association. (2017). Omega-3 Food Fact Sheet.

Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn't possible, supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.

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