Knowing how to protect your knees from damage can mean the difference between a fulfilling lifestyle and long term, strained mobility.
Knee problems can happen to anyone. Because they're the main hinge between the ground and the rest of your body, the knees serve as your 'wheels' that get you around and allow you to be active. Life can really go downhill when you damage your knees.
Bound by an intricate system of ligaments, tendons, cartilage, and muscle, the knee is highly prone to injury. It's a complex hinge where the femur (thigh bone), tibia (shin bone), fibula (next to tibia) and kneecap all come together.
It's hard to find the right balance between mobility and stability; the knee needs to move back and forth, twist a little, and pivot too. The knee's ligaments can tear, its tendons can swell up, osteoarthritis can take hold, and even everyday wear and tear can ruin a perfectly good set of knees.
Here are six pitfalls you can avoid to save your knees.
1. Ignoring knee pain.
An occasional ache here and there is common. But knowing when you can and can't ignore pain is key. Here is a thumb rule: When the pain limits your ability to do what you normally do, you need to have it checked out. If your body is sending you signals, you need to listen to them. If they persist, you need to have it checked out.
2. Being overweight.
Every pound of body weight yields five pounds of force on the knee, so even 10 extra pounds can put a considerable load on those joints.
Being overweight also increases your chances of osteoarthritis in the knee, a common and often disabling form of arthritis that wears away the knee's cushiony cartilage. Excess pounds also cause existing arthritis to worsen more rapidly. Although diet and exercise are critical for weight loss, it's a double-edged sword.
If your knees hurt, it's harder to lose weight through exercise, so it is best to do activities that go easy on the knee.
For example, opt for a stationary bike over running on the treadmill, and walk on a flat surface instead of hilly turf. If you're a die-hard treadmill fan, then go for longer sessions of walking punched with brief intervals of brisk walking or running every three to five minutes.
3. Not following through with rehab and rest.
The rest and rehabilitation period after a knee injury is critical to avoiding future pain or reinjury. Depending on the type of damage and treatment, recovery could last anywhere from a couple of weeks to several months.
4. Neglecting your ACL.
One of the most commonly injured ligaments in the knee, the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is responsible for about 150,000 injuries in the U.S. every year. Women in particular have a two- to eight-times higher risk for ACL tears compared to men, mainly because the way women naturally jump, land, and turn puts greater strain on the ACL.
However, male and female athletes alike can be trained to "rewire” themselves and thus lower risks of knee injury. That's done through neuromuscular training, which involves supervised practice in improving agility, leg strength, and jump-landing techniques for better knee joint stability.
These specialized techniques are effective in reducing risks of knee injury by almost one-half, according to a 2010 review of seven neuromuscular training studies. Athletes of any age who play ACL risk-prone sports should seek help from an athletic trainer or other trained professional to help avoid this debilitating injury.
5. Overdoing it.
You make gains in fitness when you work hard and then allow your body to recover. You can't do a hard workout every day. A sudden increase in intensity or duration of exercise can cause overuse injuries from repetitive strain. Tendonitis and kneecap pain are common symptoms in the knee.
Pushing too hard is also related to overtraining syndrome, a physiological and psychological condition among athletes in which they exceed their ability to perform and recover from physical exertion, often leading to injury or lowered performance.
Be sure to include stretching exercises before and after working out. And follow hard training days with easy ones so your body can recover.
6. Overlooking other muscles around the knees.
Weak muscles and lack of flexibility are primary causes of knee injuries, according to the Mayo Clinic . When the muscles around the kneecap, hip, and pelvis are strong, it keeps the knee stable and balanced, providing support by absorbing some of the stress exerted on the joint.
It is important to build the quadriceps and hamstring muscles, as well as properly strengthen the body's core muscles, including the obliques, lower back muscles, and upper thigh. You can accomplish this strengthening with a Swiss medicine ball. Other exercises to try are knee extensions, hamstring curls, leg presses, and flexibility exercises.