The knee is a complex joint made up of different structures - bones, tendons, ligaments and muscles. They all work together to maintain the knee’s normal function and provide stability to the knee during movement. As we age, the muscles get weaker and the ligaments get looser, causing our knees to become less stable. Weakened tendons and muscles increase our chances of tweaking, spraining, or otherwise injuring our knees.
Knee pain is a common condition affecting individuals of different age groups. It not only affects movement, but also impacts your quality of life. In addition to natural aging of the knee joints, other factors can also make you more prone to pain. Osteoarthritis, trauma, increased body weight, and inadequate muscle strength and flexibility can all cause or contribute to knee issues.
The joint surface is covered by a smooth articular surface that allows pain-free movement in the joint. When the articular cartilage wears out, the bone ends rub on one another and cause pain. This is known as arthritis. The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis that occurs with aging and use.
A previous injury or repetitive stress to the knee can also cause dull, acute, or chronic pain. If left untreated, the injury eventually can progress to osteoarthritis.
Putting additional stress on the knee joints due to excess body weight (obesity) can put you at increased risk for knee pain as well. Obesity not only worsens or accelerates joint deterioration but also increases your risk of osteoarthritis.
In the same manner, inflexible and weak muscles can add undue stress to the knee joints. Without adequate muscle strength and flexibility to safely support your complete range of motion, your knees are at enhanced risk of trauma or injury.
Care of the Aging Knee
Having a well-functioning healthy knee is essential for our mobility and ability to participate in various activities. This can be achieved by adopting the following healthy lifestyle habits that can help maintain aging knees in a good condition.
- Strengthening lower and upper leg muscles: Focus on exercises that primarily target your lower and upper leg muscles such as quadriceps, gluteus muscles, psoas and hip flexors, and hamstrings.
- Stretching upper and lower leg muscles to support your complete range of motion. Additionally, try to incorporate exercises such as yoga into your stretching routine.
- Maintaining a healthy weight: Excess weight can add significant stress on your knees therefore, maintaining a steady and recommended weight is very important. Even achieving a weight loss of 10 pounds can make a significant difference to your knee health.
- Select low-impact exercises to safeguard the knee cartilage: Low-impact activities such as cycling, swimming, and walking can help in maintaining healthy knee cartilage and prevent future injury.
- Avoid high-impact activities: high-impact exercises can turn and twist the joints that can be harmful to your joint health. High-impact activities include basketball, tennis, racquetball, and softball.
- Ensure you are active every day: Being physically active regularly can help prevent muscle atrophy and stiffness and protect your knees from future damage.
- Be careful when engaging in sports that need you to abruptly stop, pivot, or start, such as football or basketball. Make sure to always warm-up and cool down before and after such high-impact activities.
- Try to mix up your exercise routine. Avoid movements that put repetitive stress on your knee joint and can increase your chances of developing a knee issue.
- See a medical doctor immediately if you experience a bruised or swollen knee as it may be an indication of damage to internal knee structures.
- Follow a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables, vitamin D, and calcium to strengthen your bone health, and drink plenty of water to keep your body hydrated.
- Keep away from habits such as smoking and drinking energy drinks/soda which can impact your joint health.