Keeping your knees agile and pain-free!
Minnesotans are known for pushing themselves to the limit in order to make the most of our long summer days – golfing, tennis, water skiing, biking, and running can all take a toll on the knees, especially if you’re middle-aged. Almost one in three Americans older than age 45 report some type of knee pain, and it’s a common reason that people visit their doctors or the emergency room, according to the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research.
Knee pain may be the result of an injury, such as a ruptured ligament or torn cartilage. Or, certain medical conditions, including arthritis, gout and infection, may be at the root of your knee pain. More serious injuries, such as a ruptured ligament or tendon, may require surgical repair. Many relatively minor instances of knee pain respond well to self-care measures.
Although every knee problem can’t be prevented – especially if you’re active – you can take certain steps to reduce the risk of injury or disease. Here’s how.
Move More – “I know it sounds counter intuitive, especially if your knee is sore, but the most important thing for knee health is to be active,” says Leigh Callahan, Ph.D., an associate professor with the Thurston Arthritis Research Center at the University of North Carolina. “A knee that isn’t used stiffens; the muscles around it start to atrophy, and because these muscles would otherwise absorb some of the shock that moves up the leg with every step, a stiff knee has to take on more of the body’s weight than a supple one.”
Strengthen Your Thigh Muscles – In a recent study of 265 men and women with knee osteoarthritis, Mayo Clinic researchers found that those with the strongest quadriceps (thigh muscles) had less knee pain and better physical function than those with the weakest. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to build those muscles. If you’re an avid gym-goer, avoid the leg-extension machines, Kenny suggests. “They put far too much stress on the knee joint,” he says.
Stretch Regularly – Maintaining flexibility is important, especially in the muscles and tendons that connect directly to the knee, such as the hamstrings and the quadriceps. If these tissues become overly taut, they can pull the knee out of alignment.
Lose The Weight – Losing as little as 5 percent of your body weight can dramatically reduce your chances of developing knee arthritis, the most common cause of knee pain.
If your doctor recommends surgery right away, seek a second opinion. Several major studying of arthroscopic surgery to remedy sore knees have found little or no benefit. Physical therapy, as well as anti-inflammatory medicines, can be just as effective – and less invasive.
Normally, the goal of physical therapy is to strengthen the muscles around your knee and help you regain knee stability. Depending on your injury, training is likely to focus on the muscles in the back of your thigh (hamstrings), the muscles on the front of your thigh (quadriceps), and your calf, hip and ankle. You can do some exercises at home. Others require the use of weight machines, exercise bicycles or treadmills, which may mean visits to an athletic club, fitness center, or clinic.