- Written by James Dowd, M.D. James Dowd, M.D.
Osteoarthritis is the most common chronic joint condition that causes stiffness and swelling in joints such as the knees.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is estimated that 1 in 2 people will be affected by some form of osteoarthritis in their lifetime.
However, people who suffer from osteoarthritis aren’t as old as some may think. In fact, recent data shows more than half of all people with symptomatic knee osteoarthritis are younger than 65 years of age.
As life expectancies continue to increase and people lead more active lives, there is greater potential that they may experience knee pain in their lifetime, making it even more important for people to care for their joints.
A recent online survey commissioned by DePuy Synthes of 500 U.S. women aged 45-65 who had hip or knee replacement surgery or plan to have surgery soon found that knee or hip pain can negatively impact the ability to take part in basic activities, such as climbing stairs or getting in and out of a car, thus taking an emotional toll due to a lack of independence.
I always encourage my patients to maintain a healthy lifestyle—mentally, emotionally, and physically. And, taking care of your knees, especially prior to feeling any severe pain, is extremely important to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
So, what can you do to take care of your knees to keep them healthy and feeling “younger”?
Stay moving: It is easy for joints to stiffen when you’re sedentary. Make it a point to stay active with simple activities, such as taking a quick walk at the top of every hour. It can even be around your kitchen or office space.
Maintain a healthy weight: Weight gain and joint pain are closely connected, and small weight gains can make a big difference for weight-bearing joints like knees and hips.
In fact, data indicates that for every 11-pound weight gain, there is a 36 percent increased risk for developing osteoarthritis. Managing and maintaining a healthy weight can help ease the pressure on your knees.
Strengthen your quads, hamstrings, and glutes: The quadriceps and hamstrings are the two main muscle groups that support the knee.
Quadriceps are vital for the stability and healthy movement of the knee joint, while hamstrings bend the knee and move the leg behind your body.
While the connection isn’t as obvious, strong glutes can decrease your risk for knee injury.
Strengthening these muscle groups can have an impact on your overall knee health. Consider doing straight-leg raises to strengthen the quads and walking backward to strengthen the hamstrings.
Don’t ignore the pain: When it comes to the knees, minor discomfort can sometimes turn into a major issue. Pain shouldn’t interfere with everyday tasks, such as walking from a parking spot in the back of the lot, getting the mail at the end of the driveway, or sleeping.
No matter the severity of your pain, it is important to talk to a doctor about ways to treat and manage your symptoms before it becomes debilitating.
Don’t overexert yourself: Before you begin any exercise regimen, talk with your doctor. Listen to what your body is telling you, and respect your body’s limits. Pushing your body too hard can lead to injuries, so take regular breaks from repetitive activities and don’t overdo any exercise or physical activity. Overexertion is preventable.
Talk to your doctor: Whether you are experiencing pain and discomfort sporadically or it is affecting your everyday activities, it is important to discuss your symptoms with your doctor.
You can set up a separate appointment to talk through what you’re experiencing, or it can be done during your annual checkup. Ask for tips on preventing your joints from daily wear and tear and treatment options that are right for you.
For additional information and resources on knee pain, visit www.timetohitplay.com.
James Dowd, M.D., is an orthopaedic surgeon at Jordan-Young Institute in Virginia Beach, Va. www.jordan-younginstitute.com