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Can You Protect Your Self Against Knee Osteoarthritis?

Posted Aug 31 2009 10:09pm

Or are you just doomed?

One of my professors in PT school said that if you live long enough, you will get osteoarthritis. He didn't follow that up with any data or studies or additional proof though. It was just his pessimistic opinion.

The good news is that if you can keep your legs strong, especially the quadriceps, over the course of your life, you'll reduce your chances of developing the symptoms of knee osteoathritis (stiffness, aching, and pain in and around the knee).

The bad news is that most of us don't know if our legs are strong or not and we don't have a solid plan to keep the them strong.

Most scientific studies for leg strength use a special device - an isokinetic testing machine - to test your leg strength. You won't have access to one those machines most likely. Instead try this: Single Leg Squat.

  • Stand in front of a chair on one leg with the back of your leg just in front of the chair.
  • Hold your other leg off the ground in front of you.
  • Squat down until your buttocks lightly touch the seat of the chair moving your arms forward as you squat and then stand up. Do as many as you can in one minute.
  • Watch the pattern of motion of your leg. Your knee, as you look down on it, should travel in a reasonably straight line. Stop the test if:
    • your leg te nds to wobble in and out, and you are unable to control it using your muscles.
    • you hurt someplace in your body - knee, ankle, hip, back for example.
    • you lose your balance and your other foot touches the ground.
    • you complete 10 repetitions.

The goal is at least 10 repetitions on each leg. If you cannot perform at least 10 repetitions, your leg is weak.

What to do

You can use the test as a drill to increase your leg strength. If you hurt during the test or can't reach the 10 repetition goal, you'll have to reduce the load on your leg by either using a machine like a Total Gym or you might be able to use a Leg Press machine at a gym (if so, use one that allows your trunk to recline - see the image for an example). I'm not a fan of leg press machines but if that's your only option it's better than not training your leg. 

Single Leg Total Gym

leg press - squat

Find the load that your leg tolerates and also fatigues the muscles within 10-15 repetitions. Perform three sets with no more than one minute of rest in between. Do this three days per week with at least one day of rest between sessions. Each week, increase your load a small amount - less than 20%. After four weeks, re-test.

The challenge we all face is that our strength can fade over time without us ever knowing about it until one day you really need to use it and discover that, well, it's just not there. To keep that from happening to you, train. Make it part of your lifestyle.

Related articles:

How Can I Protect My Joints?

Barry Bonds' "Minor" Knee Surgery

More Motion and Less Load for Osteoarthritis

Neil A. Segal, James C. Torner, David Felson, Jingbo Niu, Leena Sharma, Cora E. Lewis, Michael Nevitt. Effect of Thigh Strength on Incident Radiographic and Symptomatic Knee Osteoarthritis in a Longitudinal Cohort. Arthritis Care & Research, Published Online: August 27, 2009
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