As we age, we become more prone to joint pain and the knees are particularly susceptible. However, knee pain is not inevitable and there are things you can do to protect your knee joints and help yourself to enjoy a fit and active old age.
Impact of ageing on the knee joint
Our knees absorb around one and a half times our body weight with each step we take. Over a lifetime, that is a lot of pressure. Knees are also prone to age-related wear and tear which takes its toll. As we get older our muscles and ligaments naturally weaken and the menisci – pads of cartilage which act as shock absorbers – start to deteriorate. We begin to lose articular cartilage which protects the end of the leg bones where they meet the knee. Without this cartilage, the bones can start to rub together causing pain, stiffness and swelling.
Processes that occur naturally as we age may be speeded up in people who are overweight, which increases the pressure on your knees, or if you have a degenerative condition like arthritis which damages the knee joint.
Common knee conditions
There are a number of common causes of knee pain and stiffness including:
- Arthritis – There are different types of arthritis but the most common is osteoarthritis also caused wear and tear arthritis which leads to cartilage in the joint wearing away. It is more common as we age.
- Sports-related injuries – A sudden impact, blow or heavy fall or a twisting or pivoting movement can lead to a wide range of knee injuries including sprains, strains, torn cartilage or fractures.
- Tendonitis – This is inflammation of the tendons due to overuse. Jumper’s knee, for example, is inflammation of the patellar tendon which can occur with the force of hitting the ground after jumping.
How to keep knees healthy
We can’t stop ourselves from getting older but we can protect against age-related knee problems. Here are some of the most effective ways to combat knee joint deterioration:
- Shed excess weight – Every pound of extra weight you are carrying translates to four pounds of pressure on your knee joints. When you lose weight it helps to relieve this pressure and reduce pain. BMI (body mass index) is a measure of body height and weight. Generally, a value between 18.5 and 24.9 is optimum. Talk to your doctor or orthopaedic surgeon for advice on losing weight to support joint health.
- Muscle-strengthening exercises – Strengthening and stretching the leg, hip and core muscles helps to stabilise the joint and supports the muscles to absorb knee stress. Working with a physiotherapist can be a good way to develop an effective exercise routine that strengthens the muscles without overstretching them.
- Avoiding damaging activities – Certain activities, such as spending a long time with your knees bent, standing for extended periods on a hard surface or high impact activities like running or jogging can place your knees under added stress. Try substituting these for low impact activities such as using an exercise bike, yoga or Pilates.
- Keep moving – It is important to stay fit and active as physical activity helps to prevent stiffness and muscle atrophy. Choose an activity that you enjoy, as you are more likely to do it, and avoid anything that puts too much stress on your knees.
- Be careful about sporting activities – Although it’s important to stay fit and active, sports like football or basketball that involve abruptly starting, stopping or pivoting can be hard on your knees.
- Don’t ignore an injury – If you injure yourself or are experiencing knee pain, it’s very important to get a proper diagnosis as continuing to use an injured joint can make the problem significantly worse.
Treatment for knee conditions
The treatment you receive will depend on the nature and severity of the problem. In the case of arthritis, for example, in the early stages you may be able to control the condition by making lifestyle changes whereas, as it progresses, you may need a partial or total knee replacement. It is important to get your knee pain diagnosed so you can discuss the most suitable form of treatment with your orthopaedic surgeon.
Good knees health is important for living a healthy, active life. Joseph Queally helps to take care of this vital joint and supports you to live a fully mobile, pain-free life.