As we begin to understand how to maintain proper health and function of the joints, let's first look at their anatomy and physiology from an Ayurvedic perspective. Joints hold the bones together and are designed to provide movement within the skeletal system. The main function of bone is support, while the joints allow a certain amount of flexibility and “give” to our structure. The synovial joints, where the ends of bone are connected by a joint cavity or capsule containing synovial fluid, allow freedom and fluidity in the articulation of our movements. All of the supportive tissues, bones, ligaments, tendons, and connective tissue, are kapha dosha, while the joint cavity or space where the bones meet is an element ruled by vata dosha. The joint capsule provides a container for the slippery synovial fluid, again a kapha substance, that lubricates the ends of the bone surfaces and also accommodates a tough, protective covering into which the ligaments and tendons can insert themselves.
It is through the ligaments that nerve impulses are transmitted to the muscles signaling movement, a function of vata dosha.
According to Ayurveda, vitiated or disturbed vata dosha can create imbalance within the joints resulting in pain and discomfort. Most commonly affected joints are knees, ankles, elbows, wrists, fingers, and toes.
When there is an imbalance in the joints, it is important to discern whether or not the imbalance exists with or without ama, a sticky toxic substance. A simple test can be done with organic sesame oil. Massage the oil into the joint. If the symptoms are aggravated, then there is ama present, a condition known as amavata. If the symptoms are alleviated by the oil massage or stay the same, then the treatment will begin with the removal of the causative factors and balancing vata dosha.
The dryness of vata can deplete the lubricating qualities of kapha and joint surfaces can become rough and brittle. Common symptoms of vata imbalance in the joints are dryness, popping and cracking, and muscle tics and spasms. Some common causative factors are jogging, jumping, excessive exercise, injury, consuming too many dry foods, living in a cold, dry climate, and irregular eating habits and lifestyle. Entering the vata season of life of fifty years and older will also increase vata dosha throughout the body. Particularly during the vata season of Fall, when the temperature becomes cold and the wind begins to blow, symptoms may become aggravated.
Ayurveda offers simple guidelines and herbal remedies for supporting healthy function of the joints. A few lifestyle therapies for balancing excess vata in the joints are:
In a condition of amavata, ama is carried by misdirected or vitiated vata into general circulation throughout the body. When it interacts with the kapha in the joint spaces, the synovial fluid loses its highly viscous quality and changes into a sticky toxic substance. It can begin to block vital channels throughout the body that carry nutrients to the tissues and cause disfunction within the joint. The immune system can begin to attack the ama stored in the joints causing an inflammation of the joint lining. Inflamed tissue can result in symptoms of excess heat, redness, pain, stiffness, and swelling.
Acute inflammation, if left untreated, can cause damage or injury to the joint and bone tissue resulting in a chronic condition. Untreated chronic inflammation can lead to degenerative disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis. Ama can be clotted together with dead cells which the immune system sweeps up. Because it can also be so deeply embedded within healthy tissue, the immune cells can become confused by the similarity to that which it has been scavenging, unable to properly identify the toxic invader from the healthy tissue; an “autoimmune” reaction.
The primary causes for accumulation of ama are improper diet, excessive exercise, exhaustion due to overwork, extreme worry, and the use of alcohol. It commonly occurs in cold, damp climates. For the condition of amavata, removing the causative factors and eliminating ama from the body are paramount. Treatment to balance the doshas and rejuvenate the joint and bone tissue ensues. Here are some additional lifestyle guidelines to help reduce ama and restore balance:
Enjoy these ayurvedic tips and know you are on your way to maintaining healthy joint function and restoring comfort and balance to your joints and muscles. Support your bones and joints and they will support you!