Your knees take on a lot of daily stress that you can't see, and certain habits may open the door to chronic joint pain. Arthritis is common, but it doesn't have to be an inevitable consequence of aging. Factors like exercise habits and obesity have a tremendous impact on your joint health, so evaluating your lifestyle now may help you sidestep conditions like osteoarthritis and help keep your knees healthy for years to come.
Carrying Excessive Weight
Because your knees are responsible for carrying your body weight when you stand, walk and run, it's important to maintain a healthy body mass index (BMI). If your BMI is over 25, you may be compromising the health of your knees. Because obesity speeds the breakdown of cartilage, it's one of the biggest risk factors for developing osteoarthritis. Dropping extra body fat may be the single most important thing you can do to reduce knee pain. In fact, studies show that overweight people with 11 pounds of weight loss cut their osteoarthritis risk in half.
Lack of Exercise
Regular exercise helps strengthen your muscles, leaving your joints with ample support. Because a knee injury can double your risk of developing osteoarthritis, opt for activities with a low risk of knee injury. Low-impact activities like yoga, walking, biking, swimming and weight lifting help enhance your joint health. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week, as opposed to occasional strenuous exercise.
Overusing Muscles and Joints
While staying active is one of the best things you can do to protect your knees, avoid repetitive strain on muscles and joints. Repeatedly engaging in the same activity may loosen tendons or damage cartilage, which can lead to injuries and arthritis. Joint health requires listening to your body, so take a break and consider stopping painful activities while focusing on areas that don't stress the injured joint. To help avoid overuse injuries, spend 5-10 minutes warming up before you exercise and another 5-10 minutes cooling down afterward.
If your body isn't properly aligned, your knees may be under undue strain. Try to keep your back straight, your knees slightly bent (as opposed to locking them out), your core tight, your head centered over your body, and your weight evenly distributed between your feet. A physical therapist can help you assess your biomechanics and teach you proper techniques to prevent extra wear and tear on your joints.
Wearing the Wrong Shoes
If your shoes cause uneven distribution of your body weight, you could be placing extra stress on your joints. Avoid uncomfortable or impractical shoes that can throw your stride off and stress your knees. For instance, high-heeled shoes might add to the risk of osteoarthritis or other knee problems. A Harvard University study found that women who wear high heels have stress across the part of the knee where osteoarthritis usually develops. Flat or rigid arches, uneven leg length and bowed legs are fairly common, and each can put pressure on your knees. Consider purchasing shoes at a specialty store where the staff can advise you on which shoes provide the appropriate support for your foot and body type. A podiatrist can also help identify any additional concerns, such as overpronation or supination, and prescribe orthotic inserts that go into your shoes to correct your gait.
Consult an orthopedics specialist today to discuss your knee pain and possible treatment options.