Over the years, our knees are subjected to a tremendous amount of wear and tear. With each step, your knees absorb pressure that’s equal to one-and-one-half times your body weight, and over time, that can take a toll. Weakening of the muscles and ligaments, degeneration of the knee’s shock absorbers (the menisci), as well as deterioration of the articular cartilage (where the leg bones meet) is very common.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take today, to help preserve your knees for tomorrow.
Maintain a healthy weight
Extra pounds add significant stress to the knees. Even a 10-pound weight loss can make a huge difference. Studies show that for each pound you lose, the load on your knee joints will drop four pounds, and losing just 10 percent of your weight can slow the progression of osteoarthritis.
Complete Proper Warm-up Exercises
Taking part in a proper warm-up routine prior to working out is not only imperative for achieving a high level of performance but also plays a pivotal role in preventing injury. Placing high levels stress on joints, specifically your knees, before they are warmed up, greatly increases the chances of getting injured. Complete these exercises before your next workout to ensure you are properly warmed up: Body weight squats and lunges, hamstring curls, leg extensions, and step-ups.
Stretch and strengthen your leg muscles by focusing on low-impact exercises that target your hamstrings, quadriceps, gluteus muscles, and hip flexors. Your outer, middle, and inner thigh muscles and calf muscles help support your knees. Building up these muscles helps reduce the stress on your joints. Cycling, swimming, yoga, and Pilates are ideal. Avoid sports like basketball or football which require quick stops and pivots. And, mix up your exercise routine to avoid putting repetitive stress on your knees.
Research shows that supplements such as glucosamine, chondroitin, and omega-3 fatty acids help protect cartilage, which is critical in preventing bones from rubbing together. One study found that a 1,000mg capsule of cod liver oil reduced harmful enzymes that damage cartilage in the joints in 86 percent of the study’s participants. In addition, diallyl disulfide, a component of alliums like onions and garlic, may also help protect joints.
Eat an anti-inflammatory diet
Inflammation is an enemy to your joints. Diets high in meat and dairy proteins and processed foods can create excess inflammation, so eat an anti-inflammatory, plant-based diet with fruits and vegetables, beans, whole grains, and fish. Onions, garlic, and shallots are also known for their anti-inflammatory properties.
It’s important to drink a lot of water — eight glasses each day. And try drinking pomegranate juice. Research has shown that drinking a small amount each day decreases inflammation by 18 percent and reduces joint pain by more than 60 percent within three months. Pomegranate juice contains ellagic acid, a natural anti-inflammatory.
While it’s not uncommon for the elderly to experience knee pain, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a part of getting older. Wear and tear on the knees is real, but following these proactive steps can help keep your knees healthy as you age.
Authored by Zach Meeker, Research Assistant for Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush University Medical Center
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