You may not realize how well your knees serve you until a problem arises. These large and complex joints play a major role in just about every movement that involves your legs, permitting you to sit, stand, walk, run, and jump on a regular basis. When performing these movements, you probably don’t give much thought to how well of job your knees are doing, but this can all change in the face of pain.
Knee pain is an extremely common problem that occurs across the age spectrum. In children and adolescents, it’s usually the result of an injury sustained in sports or other physical activities. For adults, knee osteoarthritis (OA) is more likely to be the cause. This is a condition in which the cartilage that normally protects the ends of bones within the knee gradually wears away, allowing the bones to come closer and closer to one another, which poses many dangers.
Whatever cause may be responsible, the outcome often tends to be the same: knee pain and soreness that make it difficult to complete everyday activities that involve the legs. Young athletes may have to spend some time on the sidelines while resting and recovering, while adults may become less active because they cannot get around as easily. What’s important to recognize is that in many cases, knee pain can be avoided. This applies to people of all ages, as there are certain factors that will increase the risk for knee pain, meaning that addressing them will decrease this risk. Below are some of the most effective ways to keep your risk for knee pain at a minimum:
- Strengthen the muscles surrounding the knee: poor muscle strength in the legs is a major risk factor for practically all causes of knee pain; this is why it’s crucial to work on improving the strength of these muscles, which will better stabilize the knee and help to absorb the stress that is placed on the knee during physical activity; the muscles in the front (quadriceps) and back (hamstrings) of the thigh are a great place to start, but you should also focus on the core and hip muscles to maximize the function of the knee
- Step-ups: stand and face a staircase, rotate your body 90°, and hold on to the banister; place the leg closest to the stairs onto the first step, and step up to straighten that leg, then lower yourself back down; repeat 10 times, then switch legs
- Straight leg raise: Sit or lie down on your back with your legs straight out and bend one knee to a 90° angle, keeping your foot flat on the floor; tighten the muscles on your straight leg by trying to contract your quadriceps; keep your quad tightened, and then slowly lift the bent leg about 6 inches off the floor; hold for three seconds, then slowly lower your leg to the floor; repeat 10 more times
- Lose weight: if you’re overweight, each additional pound that you carry translates to another 2-4 pounds of pressure on the joints in your lower body, particularly your knees; by the same logic, losing weight will reduce the amount of pressure on the knees and decrease the chances of knee OA developing or slow its progression; losing weight will also allow for a more active lifestyle, which further reduces the overall risk for injury
- An ideal goal would be get your body mass index (BMI) down to the “normal” range of 18.5-24.9
- Consult with a nutritionist or dietician for specific dietary assistance
- Keep your joints flexible: stiffness and tightness in the leg muscles has a negative effect across the board, as poor flexibility is associated with a higher injury risk in sports and less mobility in adults, which makes knee OA more likely; regularly stretching the hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves, on the other hand, helps to boost mobility and takes pressure off the knees
- Heel slides: lie on your stomach with your legs straight and your head resting on your arms or the ground; bend one leg with the heel toward your buttocks; repeat 10-15 times, then switch legs
- Butterfly stretch: sit up straight with the soles of your feet pressed together; holding your feet, slowly lean your upper body forward while keeping your back straight; hold the stretch for 30 seconds to one minute
- Wear proper shoes: regularly wearing shoes that are worn out, unsupportive, or not appropriate to the activity being performed can be detrimental to your knees; this applies to the shoes you wear to work, to exercise, and to social functions, as high heels are infamous for a slew of knee- and foot-related issues
- Try to only wear shoes or sneakers with good support at the heels, arch support, and a flexible soul
- Consider getting your gait analyzed and fitted for shoes accordingly at a running store