Updated: May 16, 2022
Kids can run and get down on the floor and back up again without giving it a second thought. As the largest joint in your body, the knee takes on its fair share of impact. Your knees bear a lot of weight as well as a large responsibility for your ability to effectively get around. They also contain a lot of moving parts, from ligaments and cartilage to muscles and bones, that can become damaged either from injury or the natural wear and tear of age, making it difficult to stay active and enjoy everything life has to offer.
Knee pain is a common complaint among adults and most often associated with general wear and tear from daily activities like walking, bending, standing and lifting. Athletes who run or play sports that involve jumping or quick pivoting are also more likely to experience knee pain and problems. But whether an individual’s knee pain is caused by aging or injury, it can be a nuisance and even debilitating in some circumstances.
Role of the Knee
Beginning early in life, taking care of your knees is important. The knee joint is one of the most important joints in the body because it enables walking, standing and running while supporting the weight of the body. Since it plays a big role in so many movements and carries so much body weight, many people experience knee problems at some point in their life that are often preventable.
The knee joint is a hinged synovial joint. A synovial joint is a joint cavity located at a site where the moving surfaces of bones contact each other. A thin layer of cartilage (menisci) curves around the inside and the outside of the knee so the joint is cushioned and bones can move smoothly.
The bones are connected with ligaments outside the joint and tendons connect muscles to bones, giving the joint stability. A healthy synovial joint is filled with synovial fluid that is secreted by a thin synovial membrane in the joint. This is also a key element of the ability of the joint to function properly because it acts as a lubricant and provides nourishment to the joint’s cartilage.
What Causes Knee Pain?
Many knee problems are a result of the aging process and continual wear and stress on the knee joint (such as, arthritis).
Other knee problems are a result of an injury or a sudden movement that strains the knee. Common knee problems include the following:
Sprained or strained knee ligaments and/or muscles. A sprained or strained knee ligament or muscle is usually caused by a blow to the knee or a sudden twist of the knee. Symptoms often include pain, swelling, and difficulty in walking.
Torn cartilage. Trauma to the knee can tear the menisci (pads of connective tissue that act as shock absorbers and also enhance stability). Cartilage tears can often occur with sprains. Treatment may involve wearing a brace during an activity to protect the knee from further injury.
Tendonitis. Inflammation of the tendons may result from overuse of a tendon during certain activities such as running, jumping, or cycling. Tendonitis of the patellar tendon is called jumper's knee. This often occurs with sports, such as basketball, where the force of hitting the ground after a jump strains the tendon.
Arthritis. Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis that affects the knee. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative process where the cartilage in the joint gradually wears away. It often affects middle-age and older people. Osteoarthritis may be caused by excess stress on the joint such as repeated injury or being overweight.
How to Maintain Healthy Knees?
Although collateral ligament injuries often occur during sports and are difficult to avoid, there are several steps you can take to improve the overall strength and flexibility of your knees:
Maintain a healthy weight. For every pound of weight you put on, the knees will have four more pounds of force on them and even more than that when you go up or down stairs. The flip side is true, as well. For every pound of excess weight you lose, you'll spare your knees from having to cope with four additional pounds of extra force.
Keep moving. Regular physical activity helps maintain joint function, including strength and range of motion in the knees, which means less force gets applied to the knee. Although it used to be believed that high-impact activities such as running are bad for the knees, the latest evidence shows that's not necessarily true. But there is a sweet spot for runners: recreational runners had a much lower risk of developing osteoarthritis of the knee than competitive runners and sedentary people did. It's also wise to mix up your workout routines and do something low-impact, like bicycling, Pilates, swimming or using the elliptical machine, on the in-between days.
Eat an anti-inflammatory diet. Inflammation can damage your joints, and your daily diet plays a significant role in the amount of inflammation present in your body. Processed foods, often made with white flour and sugar, are a major culprit when it comes to inflammation. Try an anti-inflammatory, plant-based diet that features lots of fruits and vegetables, beans, whole grains, some fish, and eight glasses of water a day.
Try supplements. Your grandmother had the right idea taking cod liver oil. Fish oil contains the omega-3 fatty acids Eicosapentatonic acid (EPA) and decoxahexaeonic acid (DHA). These particular acids benefit the body by promoting the reduction of inflammation in joints. EPA and DHA also limit the production of certain negative proteins that inhibit certain types of arthritis. Other natural supplements include glucosamine, chondroitin, turmeric, pomegranates and Boswellia (from trees that grow in Africa and Asia).
Strengthen the muscles around your knees. Developing strong thigh muscles — especially the quadriceps, hamstrings and abductors — improves range of motion, protects knee cartilage and reduces the stress you place on the knee. Stretching before exercising should be a regular part of your warm-up; however, it is important not to over-stretch. Get in the habit of doing squats and lunges twice a week, making sure that your knees stay above your feet and don't extend in front of your toes.
Pay attention to your posture. People often slouch or get more stooped over as they get older. This is problematic because poor posture changes your body's center of gravity, placing added stress on your knees and hips. Doing pilates, yoga, tai chi and core-strengthening exercises such as planks and back extensions can help improve your posture and prevent irritation under and around the kneecaps.
Wear proper shoes. Wearing supportive, comfortable shoes promotes proper alignment of the joints in your lower extremities as you move. Postural abnormalities of the feet can contribute to knee osteoarthritis, which is why it's important to wear shoes that help prevent inward or outward rolling of the feet during movement.
Related : Is Your Lifestyle Too Sedentary?
According to certified personal trainer Cynthia Croissant, there are three simple steps you can implement to start on the path to feeling better.
Step one is to get moving and keep moving. It’s it much easier to moving rather than to trying to get back movement. Do whatever exercise you can. Even if it is a short walk. Start there and build up to more intense exercise.
Step two is to make sure that your form is right. If you are doing your exercises incorrectly, that will cause pain and can actually do more harm than good. One of the most common form errors that cause knee pain is not aligning your knees with your ankles and feet. Often knees cave inward compared to the ankles. This causes shearing in the knees and pain.
Step three is to look for limitations in the joints above and below the knee. Sometimes the knees pay the price for problems in the hips and ankles.
If the ankles stiff and lack mobility, that can cause pressure and pain in the knees. So make sure that you work on ankle mobility. One exercise to do that is to start with your foot a few inches away from a wall then push the knee to the wall while keeping the heel down.
Related : Are You Stretching Enough?
If your hips are not strong and stable, this will allow the legs to get out of alignment and cause pain in the knees. It’s a problem in the hip but the knees pay the price. Strengthening the hips helps to reduce the knees pain. One exercise to do that is to preform clam shells. To do that, lie on your side with the knees bent. Lift the knee and squeeze the muscle on the side of the hip.
Keeping knee joints healthy and free from injury can prevent knee pain. Of course, natural aging can also lead to knee joint deterioration. There are steps you can take to reduce knee pain and soreness and keep your knees working well. Make sure that you are moving as much as you can and that you keep moving. Check your form when you are doing exercises like squats. Strengthen your hips to keep your legs aligned properly. Implement these simple strategies to reduce knee pain and soreness and keep your knees feeling strong.
To age in the best way possible, eat a healthy diet, get plenty of exercises, maintain a healthy weight, sleep seven to eight hours each night and enjoy time with friends and family.
About the authors:
Cynthia Croissant had always been active and healthy growing up. But as she got older, staying in shape got a lot more difficult. After getting diagnosed with osteopenia, she began strength training. She started getting frustrated with the traditional way to lift weights because she kept getting injured. She was determined to figure out a way to get stronger and healthier. So, she got certified by NASM, StrongFirst, Ground Force Methods, and others. Using information from those certifications, she created a program to get herself out of pain and get back to doing the lifting she wants to do and reversed the osteopenia.
Now, she is passionate about sharing her simple system for resetting your body and helping other people get stronger, move better, and improve their wellness.
Madur & Anitha Jagannath are certified Nutrition Consultants, in addition to their professions in technology and human resources. When Madur started feeling lethargic and slowing down, he started exercising regularly, became conscious of healthy eating habits and nutrition. He is an avid runner and does half-marathons often. At Voyage to Wellness, they attribute our reputation to the lasting customer relationships they have developed throughout the years. They believe in health & wellness and being fit, at all stages of people's lives.
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