Knee problems are very common and can have a significant impact on your quality of life whether you are a high-level athlete or just want to get on with your day to day activities without pain. Knee pain can start from an injury, poor muscle conditioning or because of genetics risk factors.
One of the most common causes of pain as we get older is called osteoarthritis. This results in joint inflammation as a result of advanced wear of the cartilage of the knee causing bone to rub on bone as you move.
Other common causes of knee problems in younger people include tears to the meniscus “cartilages of the knee” and tearing the anterior cruciate ligament. In addition, problems with the kneecap “anterior knee pain” are very common and often incorrectly diagnosed. As a specialist in knees and sports injuires I can help you with these disorders, however you can reduce the reduce the chance of developing some of these problems by considering some of my 10 tips below.
1. Stay Active
It is vital to keep the muscles around your knee strong. Strong muscles around the knee provide both a shock absorbing effect and ensure that the kneecap functions properly. One of the best exercises is cycling as this helps strengthen the muscles around the knee without causing too much impact on the knee joint.
2. Control your weight:
Carrying more weight than your body was designed to cope with puts a lot of extra stress on your knee joint. In particular the kneecap is very sensitive to extra weight and can become painful. Losing 1 Kg of weight can take 5-10 kg of weight off your knee and hence, simply losing the weight can get rid of the pain. Swimming is a great exercise to help lose weight as it does not place any strain on joints.
A health balanced diet not only helps with your weight, but it is likely to contain higher levels of nutrients that help your body restore its natural defences. Research at Mount Sinai School of Medicine has shown that reducing processed foods and fried food can reduce inflammation. Smoking has a negative effect the ability of your body to heal itself. Cutting down and stopping can not only help your knees but confer multiple health benefits. This is because smoking reduces that amount of oxygen available to your body tissues and oxygen is a key part of the healing response.
A diet rich in super foods such as broccoli, blueberries, garlic and oily fish can help maintain vitamin levels and nutrient support for bone health. Vitamin supplements can help but do not replace a good diet.
The knee is usually the first part to struggle if the body is put into incorrect alignment. Often this can be due to your feet. Keeping the feet in the correct position can take a lot of force and load off both your knees and your spine. Wearing high heels is a common cause. I would advise sensible use of high heels for short periods of time. If you have problems with your knees it is best to wear small heels or avoid heels altogether.
Another common cause is the use of worn out shoes/trainers or incorrect trainers for your feet. It is worth investing in good quality trainers and having the shape of your foot assessed by the sports store specialist to ensure you are buying the correct trainers for your feet. Ideally trainers should be changed every year.
Our bodies are remarkable adaptable and can be put into all sorts of positions. However, they are designed to maintain a specific posture most of the time. By maintaining good posture, with your shoulders, hips and knees your muscles and skeletal system work together to put less strain on your joints.
Poor posture often leads to back pain and this sets off problems in the hip and the knee and can often become a vicious cycle. The best way to prevent this is to work on your posture with the help of a physiotherapist or an osteopath if needed to keep these problems at bay.
6 Warm up and cool down:
It is very important to warm up the body before exercising. By warming up, blood flow to muscles is increased and stretching tells your brain and muscle fibres that they need to be ready to go. This helps loosening things up and prepares your muscles and tendons for activity and reduces the chance of injury.
The type of warm up needs to be specific for the activity planned and should take 5-10 minutes. Typically, 5 minutes of jogging followed by 5 minutes of stretching the large muscle groups and specific stretches for the muscles that will be used during the activity is sufficient. By doing so the mind and the body should be ready to deal with the more energetic demands to come.
The cool down period after sport or exercise is equally important and helps gradually return the body to normal function. This helps reduce light-headedness, fainting and muscle cramps due to build-up of lactic acid. 3-5 minutes of walking to get your heart rate back to normal and then follow this with 5 minutes of stretching to get the muscle groups you used in your workout back to normal length.
7. Change your exercise program:
Often, I see high demand athletes with knee problems. Some have injuries that need surgical treatment, but many have problems due to the training program they are undertaking. It is important to vary the exercises by not only changing the muscle groups that are exercised from day to day but also to change the type of exercise that each muscle group has to do.
A simple example for the knee would be to mix up impact activity such as running with some swimming. While both exercises work similar leg muscles it allows muscles to develop in more balanced way.
8. Don’t ignore pain or knee swelling:
Your knee produces fluid when it is damaged or irritated in some way. It is your bodies’ way of telling you that something is not right with you knee. If swelling is persistent or occurs on a regular basis you should get this checked out by a specialist. Likewise, persistent knee pain should not be ignored. Early diagnosis is important in both preventing more severe damage and treating problems earlier with better results. It is worth seeing your GP or a knee specialist so that they can assess you, examine the knee properly and get some x-rays and an MRI scan done to fully assess the knee.
Modern day life is hectic and busy for all of us. To stay on top of your game it is vital to ensure you get enough sleep. This is a chance for your body to heal and recover from the demands placed upon it. So simple things like regular sleep, drinking 3 liters of water a day and making time for yourself can have a very positive effect on your joints and long term wellbeing.
10. work/life balance:
Work to live is better for you than living to work. There is growing evidence that ensuring that you get a balance between work and life helps control stress levels and feeling of happiness. This also has a biological effect on your body that affect your ability to heal and your muscles to relax.
Mr Bobby S Anand MBBS BSc (Hon) FRCS (Tr & Orth)
Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon. Specialist in Knee Surgery and Sports Injuries
Surrey Knee Clinic