At the Orthopaedic & Spine Center, knee pain is the most common ailment that we see. Knees are a complicated joint – they bear our weight and have many delicate parts to them. They are required to work very hard for us, day in and day out. In our country, knee pain has become so prevalent for many reasons:
- Our largest population segment, the baby boomers, is aging. Osteoarthritis, the unavoidable wear and tear on our joints, is very common as we age.
- Obesity is a major health issue in our country. Extra body weight speeds the breakdown of cartilage so it is one of the biggest risk factors in developing osteoarthritis.
- On the other hand, many people are very active and have been for many years. This can cause greater wear and tear and also injury.
All of these reasons combine to produce a population who is experiencing the very common ailment of knee pain. In this article, I am going to offer you some information on how to NOT ruin your knees. These are some tips that may seem like common sense. If you choose to use these tips, chances are great that you will have favorable outcomes.
Acknowledge the pain – Occasional pains are common, but recognizing when the pain has gone on for too long or level of intensity has gotten worse is important. The longer you wait to acknowledge pain, the worse it may get. Depending on the condition, you may have done more damage, and possibly irreversible damage. If pain limits your ability to do what you normally do, you should see a physician. Our bodies send us signals, and very often, we tend to ignore what it is trying to tell us! By the time many of our patients finally decide to come see us, the window for conservative care is rapidly closing. We strongly favor conservative treatment, so we would like to help you that way if possible. If you are in doubt, I strongly encourage you to see a physician.
Lose some weight – Very few people realize that every pound of body weight can yield up to approximately seven pounds of force on the knee. Being overweight increases the likelihood that OA will develop. Excess weight can also aggravate arthritis and actually make it get worse quicker. We take thousands of steps in an average day, therefore we put thousands of pounds of pressure on our knees every day. It is common that at the beginning of an exercise program knee pain may increase, so it might seem counter intuitive to push people to exercise. Once the initial phase is past, you will be so happy that you started an exercise program, you will wish you started sooner! The most important thing here is to make smart decisions on the type of exercise you do. Some types of exercise are easier on your joints than others: Riding a stationary bike, water aerobics, brisk walking on a treadmill or outside on a flat surface, swimming, T’ai Chi or yoga.
Stick with rest and rehab (if applicable) – If you suffer from knee pain (or an injury), you must give yourself time to heal. This time of rest is crucial to avoid future injury or pain. If you are in physical therapy to avoid surgery, it is so important that you make the most of it. Physical therapy will train your knee and the surrounding muscles to act in a healthier way. If you have had surgery, I cannot stress enough the importance of being dedicated to your physical therapy. Physical therapists and these exercises literally will change your life – please give them the credit and attention they are due! If a physician recommends that you rest, please rest. We know what we are talking about.
Be kind to your Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) – this little tiny ligament has an inordinate amount of power. It is responsible for approximately 150,000 injuries in the United States each year. Active people are more likely to have an ACL tear. Sports involving twists, cutting, and landing from jumps produce the most tears. It is possible to tear your ACL in ways other than athletics. Examples might be slips and falls or direct contact or collision (from an injury such as a car accident).
In soccer, football, and basketball, jumping, landing and turning are unavoidable, but it is possible to make them in a “smart” way. You can engage in preventive exercises to lower your risk of injury. This is called neuromuscular training and consists of supervised techniques to improve agility, strength and jump landing moves. These exercises will improve your knee joint stability. According to several studies in recent years, these techniques may reduce ACL injuries by almost 50%! I recommend that coaches of these sports seek help from an athletic trainer experienced in this area to help avoid this injury.
Try and be kind to YOURSELF (or “don’t overdo it!”) – If you are active or trying to become active, you need to know just how important it is to give yourself recovery time. This means to take a day off at least once a week, or minimally, do a very easy workout once or twice a week. Pushing too hard can cause overuse and overtraining injuries. These are often the most frustrating because you were doing the right thing by exercising, but it ended up getting you into trouble! If you are beginning a new exercise program, it is a smart idea to not just dive in head first. I recommend that you increase time exercised and intensity by no more than 10% per week. This will give your body a chance to adjust to the new activity and will hopefully prevent injury. Remember to add stretching to your routine as well. Your muscles will thank you!
Cross train – It is important to pay attention to your flexibility and all of your major muscle groups. The best way to do this is by cross training. Spend time strengthening your quadriceps, hamstrings, core and lower back muscles. The body is truly a machine, so when you have all the parts working together at optimal condition, it greatly decreases the likelihood of injury. Weak muscles are major causes of knee injuries so by focusing on the muscles surrounding the knee, your strong muscles will actually absorb some of the stress placed on the joint. Exercises I recommend are knee extensions, hamstring curls, leg presses, and yoga.
I hope this article provided you with some useful tips and information. If you are suffering from knee pain and feel you could benefit from a consultation on your condition, please call OSC to schedule an appointment. We would love the opportunity to find out if we can help you feel better!
Boyd W. Haynes III, MD is a fellowship-trained, board certified Orthopaedic Specialist with Orthopaedic and Spine Center in Newport News, Virginia. Dr. Haynes’ practice is focused primarily on sports-related injuries and disorders. Dr. Haynes has been named a “Top Doc” in the field of orthopaedics in both 2012 and 2013 through a physician survey sponsored by Hampton Roads Magazine. Call 757-596-1900 to make an appointment. Visit www.osc-ortho.com to learn more about OSC and Dr. Haynes.