Back to articles

A Healthy Lifestyle Can Put Your Knees at Ease

Michael Abdulian Orthopedic

It’s easy to take our knees for granted. These hard-working joints get called upon hundreds of times a day, from the moment we get up in the morning till we fall back into bed at the end of the day.

Just like every other part of the body, it’s important to pay attention to the health of our knees. Bone, muscle and cartilage are made of living tissue that can deteriorate over time and cause chronic (long-term) pain as a result of misuse, injury or the natural aging process.

There is good news, though: Some fairly simple and straightforward lifestyle choices can help you avoid knee pain.

Drop a few pounds. The most important factor in sustaining pain-free knees throughout your life is to maintain a healthy weight. If you’re not sure what your ideal weight is, talk with your primary care physician or go online to cdc.gov/healthyweight. Keep in mind that, even if you are significantly overweight, every pound you lose decreases the stress on your knees and the rest of your lower body with every step you take. Breaking up your weight loss journey into easily achievable, short-term goals—such as five pounds a month—will keep you motivated and give you the best possible chance at success.

Even people who have already been diagnosed with osteoarthritis—which is the progressive wear and tear on a joint such as the knee—can gain a great benefit from dropping a few pounds. In fact, weight loss is the only action that has been proven to decrease the progression of osteoarthritis.

Get moving. You probably already know that staying fit and active is good for your heart and for your overall health. It’s also a key part of the formula for healthy knees. The American Heart Association recommends a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least five days a week.

Many people choose running as a way to get aerobic exercise—and it’s a great choice. Keep in mind, though, that running on concrete surfaces can take a toll on the knees over time. To minimize the stress on your knees, be sure to stretch well before and after you run, take time to warm up and cool down, buy well-fitting running shoes, and replace them regularly.

For great aerobic benefit without overstressing the knees, try swimming. This activity provides an effective workout for the entire body with minimal pressure on the joints. Other excellent aerobic options that minimize knee stress include using an elliptical machine and brisk walking, which is a highly effective and inexpensive way to get exercise.

Active older adults can continue participating in the sports they enjoy, but remember that aging joints have more limitations and less capacity for healing than younger joints. Pace yourself and listen to your body.

Finish strong. There are multiple muscles that cross the knee joint and enable it to move. Weight training can keep these muscles toned and, in turn, enable the knee joint to function the way it’s supposed to. It is important to note that you don’t have to use heavy weights to get the strengthening benefit your knees require. In fact, it’s more effective to use lower weights combined with higher repetitions of the movement. In addition to the knees, be sure to target a variety of muscle groups in the lower extremity, such as hip muscles, thigh muscles and your core. These muscles work together, so it’s important that they are all well maintained.

Even with all of these healthy lifestyle choices, you may experience knee pain occasionally. It is fine to treat minor, short-term aches and pains with over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications. However, if you take other medications—especially blood thinners—check with your physician before taking an anti-inflammatory. Sometimes it helps to also ice the knee, and it’s always important to rest your joints while they are recuperating.

If your knee pain gets to the point that you are unable to enjoy your favorite activities anymore, or if the pain affects your quality of life in other ways, it’s time to see an orthopedic surgeon. He or she will be able to examine your condition then recommend various options for treatment.

Michael Abdulian, MD, is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and a member of the Adventist Health Physicians Network (AHPN) in Simi Valley.