One of the biggest problems that I have experienced when walking is painful knee joints. Knee joint pain is common in old age, often caused by osteoarthritis (the wearing away of knee cartilage). However, in my case, it has been caused by abuse and knee injury from years of caving, potholing and rock climbing.
Either way it is something that unfortunately, we all must look forward to. However, there are ways of fooling ‘father time’ and delaying or reducing the long-term impact on our knees.
The Mechanics of the Knee
Just in the routine act of walking our knees absorb a huge amount of pressure, equivalent to one and a half time our body weight. The knee has two ‘shock absorbers’, pads of cartilage called menisci which gradually start to deteriorate. As does the articular cartilage protecting the ends of the leg bones where they meet at the knee.
Once this cartilage has gone, the bones start to rub against each other creating stiffness, swelling and pain.
Age Proofing your Knee
However, all is not lost. If you haven’t started to get problems with your knees, then there are things you can do to help delay the inevitable. If you are already suffering, like I am, then these three things will also help you to slow down the progress of the deterioration.
Strengthen Your Muscles
Increasing the strength of the muscles in your legs, particularly those around the knee, will help as the muscles absorb some of the impact stress that you place on your knees.
Start with the quadriceps and hamstrings in the thighs. However, whereas this used to be all that was thought necessary, now it is suggested that you work on the hip and core muscles in order to ensure the knee is functioning correctly. Working with a physiotherapist will be a great help as they can evaluate and develop a programme for you.
There are many simple exercises that you can do at home and these include –
Body squats, but do not go so low that your legs are parallel with the floor as this will put too much pressure on the knees.
Step-ups for your leg, hip and core muscles. A simple adaptation of this exercise will enhance the benefits. Turn 90º to a stair, step or block, steady yourself with one hand and place the leg closest the step on the step. Straighten the leg to lift your body and then lower yourself back down. Do this 10 times then repeat for the other leg.
I know, it’s that old ‘chestnut’ again, but it is true! Each additional Kg that we carry translates to 4Kg of pressure on the knees. So, a 12Kg (2 Stone) weight excess will add 48Kg (8 Stone) to the knees! It is therefore obvious to see why we should work towards losing some weight. I have recently lost 19Kg (3 Stone) and the difference it has made to my joints and speed up hill is amazing.
Straightening your leg
As you get older the joints start to stiffen and it can become hard to straighten the leg out completely. This will put more stress on the knees and create other muscular problems for you. There is good evidence that people with better joint motion have fewer symptoms.
It is important to get the leg as straight as possible and again, working with a physiotherapist will be beneficial. However, there is a simple exercise that you can do at home. Sit on a bed or floor and place a pillow under the ankle. Now use your leg muscles the gentle force the knee down until the leg is straight. Do no use your hands to force the knees down!
Certain activities can make the pain from osteoarthritis worse such as prolonged standing on hard surface. For this wear cushioned shoes or gel inserts to help ease the pressure. If you enjoy gardening, the chances are that you will spend long periods of time squatting. This can irritate the soft cartilage of the knee so try using a low stool or cushioned kneeling pad
Avoid jogging or other high impact exercises such as aerobics as this will put further stress on the knee joints. Instead try non-impact exercises like yoga, swimming or using an indoor cycle or elliptical trainer.
Always remember, if you find yourself in extreme pain or have doubts about what you are planning to do. Please consult your GP first who may refer you directly to a physiotherapist.