Hydration & Joint Health

Have you ever wondered why your joints feel more stiff and achy?  If you’ve tried multiple ways of supporting your joints’ health and are looking for other ideas, consider your hydration level.

Often overlooked, hydration can affect the feel and function of your joints throughout the day.


The Link Between Hydration & Joint Health

The inside of our joints are covered with a thin layer of specialized tissue called articular cartilage whose main role is to provide a smooth surface inside joints and absorb some of the shock that gets transmitted to bone. Together, these effects contribute to normal, smooth joint movement.

Unlike many other tissues in the body, however, articular cartilage is poorly innervated and doesn’t have its own blood supply. It’s mostly made up of water, collagen, and several other types of cells and molecules. In fact, cartilage’s high water-content is an important part of its overall function as a padded, friction-reducing surface.

Perhaps most noteworthy is that without adequate hydration, articular cartilage becomes more susceptible to injury, wear, and tear.


Here’s where dehydration comes in

Did you know the average adult body is 60% water!  In order for your cells and tissues to stay hydrated (and alive), we need to drink water.

When dehydrated, your body starts to draw water out of tissues considered “non-vital” in order to properly hydrate tissues which are vitally important for survival—such as the brain, heart, and lungs.

As important as the articular cartilage is for your body, it’s not considered a vital tissue for survival.

This means that when your body is dehydrated, water may begin to be drawn out of articular cartilage and be shuttled off to wherever it’s desperately needed, leaving your articular cartilage poorly hydrated and at a greater risk for injury.

Dehydration can affect your joints in other ways, too.

Insufficient water intake can affect total blood volume, impairing your body’s ability to move nutrients in (and cellular waste products out) of your joints.

Dehydration can also cause the muscles, ligaments, and tendons supporting your joints to become less pliable, weaker, and more easily fatigued. Not only can this cause discomfort, but it could put you at a greater risk of injury.


How much water should I be drinking?

Here’s a helpful tip to keep in mind: when you’re feeling thirsty, it means you’re already dehydrated. Don’t wait to take a sip of water until you’re already feeling parched!

The old adage of eight glasses of water per day may be appropriate for you, however, factors such as body weight, age, activity level, occupation, overall health status, and even climate can impact how much water you should consume on a daily basis.

Another common recommendation is to drink around half your body weight in fluid ounces per day. As an example, a 160 lb. person would drink around 80 fluid ounces of water daily.  But, again, since water intake can vary depending on activity level, this person might consider drinking more if they have a physically demanding job or an athlete.


Is it possible to drink too much water?

While very rare, drinking too much water (usually quickly and within a short period of time) has the potential to affect the normal electrolyte balance of the body.  Most of us, though, should be making sure we’re getting enough water!  To learn more about the science behind over-drinking water, check out this article.

A simple way to check if you’re well-hydrated is to take a look at your urine. As the American Council on Exercise notes, it should be “plentiful and pale yellow.”


What to do today

Here are some actionable steps you can take today to implement a consistent hydration habit to support not only your general wellness but also joint health.

  • Drink at least one glass of water with your next meal.  Try to repeat this with subsequent meals for the next few days.
  • Pick a reusable water bottle that you can carry around with you.  Tip: for some, reusable cups with plastic straws encourage more and frequent sipping throughout the day.
  • If you use elastic hair ties (or have extra rubber bands), wrap one around your water bottle each time you refill it to keep track of how much water you’ve drunk in a day.

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