Our bones and joints play an important role in every movement we make, but age and certain medical conditions can reduce joint mobility and cause pain. Some medications and preexisting risk factors can also put us at risk for bone density issues like osteopenia or osteoporosis. MU Health Care’s Joint Health Program is a nonsurgical treatment plan designed to improve and maintain joint function and bone density using a proven long-term approach that emphasizes strength, endurance, nutrition and mental well-being.

doctor examines mans knee


Without proper nutrition, regular exercise and stretching, joints can begin to lose their function. The Joint Health Program is coordinated by physical therapists, registered dietitians, orthopaedic care providers and health behavior psychologists who meet with you to identify shared health goals, and then give you the tools to reach those goals. Our team is ready to help you take the first step if you have joint issues or are at risk of developing joint or bone density issues.

How does the program work?

New groups begin the Joint Health Program at the start of every month. The first phase of the program is six months long, with regularly scheduled visits to the Missouri Orthopaedic Institute. It includes:

  • Three instructor-led team exercises per week, each lasting about an hour. Exercises are tailored to your individual needs, with the goal of increasing endurance and strength. These classes are offered either in-person, or online via Zoom.
  • Monthly physical therapy evaluations to check your joint function, balance and progress.
  • Nutrition tools, including monthly individual meetings with a registered dietitian.
  • Monthly discussions with a health behavior psychologist to address barriers to change you may be facing. We like to say our physical therapists, physicians and dietitians give patients the tools, and our health psychologists help patients put those tools into action.

During the second phase, our team works with you individually to help you maintain bone and joint health in the long term, providing home exercise programs, recipes, encouragement and other forms of support. Our specialists are committed to helping you reach your goals for nutrition, exercise and lifestyle changes and will help you find what works best for you.

Do I need exercise equipment?

Most of our recommended exercises can be done without equipment. We recommend you bring a water bottle and wear loose, comfortable exercise clothing and a pair of tennis shoes with good arch support to group exercise sessions. Some tools or equipment you may use during group exercises include:

  • Resistance bands: stretchy pieces of latex that are easy on joints and great for building muscle. We will give you these when you start the program.
  • Low-weight dumbbells, if available, to improve strength and endurance. If you don’t have dumbbells, don’t sweat! We will help you identify other options (like soup cans) that work just as well.
  • A pedometer, or step counter. Your physical therapist will work with you to set a daily steps goal, which may change as you advance through the program. Many smart phones have one built in.
  • A heart rate monitor, if you have one. Many smart watches have these built in, or if you come in person for class, we’ll let you use one of ours. Studies have shown that reaching a “target heart rate” during exercise can lead to a better overall result.

Does insurance cover this program?

In short, yes. Most insurance companies that MU healthcare is in-network with cover these specialists' appointments, with patients only responsible for the deductible, copays and/or coinsurance. If we find that a specialist won’t be covered under your plan, we will connect you to financial counseling to help you join in. Our group exercise classes are free for participants.

Do you only monitor weight loss?

No. Every patient will work with our specialists to identify their specific goals, and we make sure these aren’t ONLY focused on weight. We use an InBody measurement, a specialized scale that can measure weight, body fat percentage, skeletal muscle mass and water content, which helps us individualize recommendations surrounding weight and body composition. We also monitor your balance, pain, gait speed and functional ability to live your life. Sometimes our patients don’t need to lose weight, but they are in the program because they’re working on regaining balance or making other healthy changes in their life. No matter your goals, we’ll develop a program to help you reach them.

Are you going to put me on a diet?

Our registered dietitians excel at working with you to identify healthy eating that will work for you in your life. Each person is different, and each person’s needs are different. We don’t think of healthy eating behaviors as a “diet,” which can be rigid and hard to follow long term. Rather, our dietitians will work with you to figure out a sustainable, healthy eating pattern that will work for your specific needs.

How do I get started?

Give us a call! We do require a referral for participation in the program, but we are happy to reach out to your physician to coordinate that. Once you are referred, you’ll speak with our program coordinator on the phone, who will get you scheduled with our nurse practitioner or physical therapist. In that meeting, we’ll evaluate if you can safely participate in the Joint Health Program and start working on identifying your health goals.

For questions or more information, please call 573-882-3851.