Taking a few small steps toward protecting your knees when you are younger might help you avoid debilitating problems when you get older.
Studies have shown that nearly half of adults will get knee arthritis in at least one knee by age 85. For obese people, the risk is even greater.
“Every time you take a step you apply three times your body weight to the knee,” said Dr. William J. Bryan, an orthopedic surgeon with the Methodist Center for Sports Medicine in Houston. “When you run it’s five times, when you jump it’s seven times. If you are experiencing frequent knee pain, lifestyle changes might be in order.”
More than 30 percent of Americans are considered obese. Carrying additional weight on your frame puts great strain on the knee joint.
“What most people don’t understand about weight loss is that it’s 70 percent diet and 30 percent exercise,” Bryan said. “If you think you can eat the same and exercise the pounds away, you are mistaken. You have to change your attitude about the refrigerator for weight loss to happen.”
Exercises like swimming, cycling and other low-impact options better protect your knees than running or aerobics. Strengthening your core muscles (abs, back and pelvis) is another key component of maintaining healthy knees.
“If you have a strong core, you can better position your foot or knee on the ground to prevent damage,” Bryan said. “This is true whether you are exercising or performing mundane tasks such as getting out of the car and walking down the stairs.”
Orthotics are also very important. If your shoes do not give you a stable base of gate when you put your foot on the ground, it will cause abnormal stress on the knee. Bryan says he has many patients whose knee pain has improved dramatically after purchasing orthotics or by having shoes specifically made to fit their feet.
“If you have knee pain that has lasted more than two weeks, you need to see a doctor because there might be something mechanically wrong with the knee,” Bryan said. “Making a few lifestyle changes might give you a better chance at staving off arthritis and/or an eventual knee replacement.”