Our knees are very important joints in our bodies, as they allow us to walk, run, jump, kick, sit and stand. But this weight-bearing joint is the cause of many problems and much pain. We see athletes suffer from knee injuries- many that require surgery and long-term rehabilitation. There are an estimated 19 million Americans annually who visit their orthopedic surgeons because of knee discomfort. One cause of knee pain is osteoarthritis, a painful condition that happens when the cartilage in the knee wears away. The description “bone on bone,” is the term used when the cartilage is gone. There are over 10 million people in the United States that have osteoarthritis of the knee. Rheumatoid arthritis is a debilitating disease that causes the same result, as well as joint deformities, especially in the hands and feet.
Twisting, stretching, or straining the knees are common ways of injuring them. There are ways that you can try to reduce knee discomfort; in case of an injury, try the RICE method of routine home care:
If this method doesn’t improve the condition, see your doctor. Seek emergent care if the injury causes immediate swelling, bones appear to be deformed, pain is intolerable, inability to bear weight, or a loss of sensation below the injury site occurs. You also need medical attention if the joint is warm and has fever.
Exercise is an important way to build muscles that stabilize the knees. Strong and flexible quadriceps and hamstring muscles can prevent minor stresses to our knees. Try ten minutes of stretching before your daily workout and see if that won’t help. Also, wearing a good pair of running shoes that have shock absorption takes some of the stress away from the knees. Low profile knee supports may be helpful to runners to stabilize their knees. If you have weak knees, your best option may be walking rather than running.
Certain types of shoes (clogs or stiff-soled walking shoes) may cause your joints to carry loads up to 15% greater than shoes with flexible soles, according to a study from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. High heels may also increase the load on knees.
Protecting your knees is important, too. If your job requires working on your knees, there are all types of knee pads that will make the work day much easier by taking stress off the joints. They also serve the same purpose for at-home or garden chores.
Maintain a healthy weight in order to help your joints stay strong. Even ten pounds can put more stress on your knees. One national survey stated that obese men had five times the risk of getting osteoarthritis of the knee than their lighter peers; and obese women had four times the same risk.
One personal note: for years, my husband suffered from severe pain in his knees and legs. He saw several doctors who x-rayed his knees and said they were just fine. Finally, we were sent to an internist, who repeated x-rays of the knees. Later, after observing him walk, sent him back to have his hips x-rayed. He had “bone on bone” in both hips. Even though his hips never hurt during that time, the doctor explained that his pain was “referred pain.” It is amazing that pain can fool us by traveling to another joint. Following his hip replacements, the knee pain went away.
Although sports and recreational activities cause many knee injuries, more knee injuries happen at home or work. Regardless of your location, on the playing field, at work, or working in your house, yard, or garden, take precautions to protect your joints. They can usually be repaired or replaced, but it’s a costly experience.