Simply put, joints are places in the body where two bones meet. Most joints are called synovial joints, meaning the ends of the bones are cushioned by a slippery synovial fluid, which prevents friction between the bones and allows the joint to move smoothly through its range of motion. Much like a squeaky door, our joints don’t function well without synovial fluid.
Especially for adults, it’s important to warm up our joints and keep them warm for exercise. Synovial fluid, when cold, is thick and viscous. When it warms up, it begins to flow freely, allowing it to properly cushion and lubricate the joint. Cold, thick, and viscous synovial fluid can lead to improper cushioning and lubrication, and grinding on the two bones.
Knees come up a lot in injury because they are very poorly vascularized. In other words, they don’t have great blood flow. With far fewer small blood vessels, they are slower to heal from injuries, and are affected much more by cold.
If a joint is cold, the synovial fluid doesn’t warm up. It remains cold and viscous, and cannot properly cushion or lubricate the joint. This sets you up for injury. For knees, “too cold” happens in temperatures as warm as 60°F. It seems warm, but it’s important to keep your knees warm in this temperature. Without proper lubrication, the joint wears down much faster, just from moving around.
Cover your knees when the weather drops below 60 degrees. If pants make you too warm during your chosen activity, consider light compression sleeves to go under shorts. Remember – keeping your knees covered may make the difference between a healthy joint in Spring and a chronic problem that will follow you all season.