Knee pain is a common problem, especially for older adults. Over the years, your knees endure a lot of wear and tear as you fight against gravity to move and walk.
In addition to natural, inevitable aging of the knee joints, other factors can make you more susceptible to pain. Osteoarthritis, injury, excess body weight and lack of muscle strength and flexibility can all cause or contribute to knee problems.
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. With this degenerative disease, the cartilage that cushions the joints breaks down and can cause aching, immobility, stiffness and swelling. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates more than 32.5 million adults in the United States have osteoarthritis.
Whether a previous trauma or repetitive stress from kneeling, running, etc., injury to the knee can also result in acute, dull, recurring or chronic pain. The injury can eventually develop into osteoarthritis if left untreated.
Putting extra stress on weight-bearing joints like the knees puts you at risk for knee pain, as well. Excess body weight not only accelerates joint deterioration but also increases your risk of osteoarthritis.
In the same way, weak or inflexible muscles put undue stress on the joints. Without muscular strength and flexibility to safely support your full range of motion, your knees are at a greater risk of injury.
You can help protect the health of your knees by adopting these lifestyle habits, no matter your age. Check with your medical provider before beginning a new exercise regimen.
- Strengthen your upper and lower leg muscles. Focus on exercises that target your hamstrings, quadriceps, gluteus muscles, hip flexors and psoas.
- Stretch those same leg muscles to support your full range of motion. Try incorporating yoga into your stretching routine.
- Maintain a recommended weight. Extra pounds add significant stress to the knees. Even a 10-pound weight loss can make an enormous difference.
- Choose low-impact exercises to protect the cartilage in your knees. Cardiovascular activities like cycling (on a properly fitted bike) and swimming can help keep knee cartilage healthy and prevent future damage.
- See a medical provider right away if you have a swollen knee. It can indicate damaged cartilage.
- Be cautious when playing sports that require you to abruptly start, stop or pivot, like basketball or football.
- Stay active every day. Physical activity helps prevent stiffness and muscle atrophy and can protect your knees from future injury.
- Mix up your exercise routine. Movements that put repetitive stress on your knees can increase your risk of developing a knee problem.
This article is brought to you by OrthoCarolina's Hip & Knee Center.
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This article was originally published on July 31, 2014, and has been updated on May 18, 2020.