Because aching joints can hit at any age. – By Elizabeth Marglin For Men’s Health
Knee pain isn’t just a problem for old people: It can hit at any age, says Matthew Abdel, an orthopedic surgeon and associate professor at the Mayo Clinic.
And it’s happening more and more frequently. According to a study from the Boston University School of Medicine, the prevalence of knee pain has increased significantly over a 20-year period. Currently, one in five Americans have suffered knee pain, and it’s the culprit behind a third of all doctor’s visits for muscle and bone pain, says Stephen Nicholas, founder and current director of New York Orthopedics.
That’s one reason why there are roughly 700,000 knee replacements annually. But who wants to go under the knife if you don’t need to? Thankfully, there are things you can do right now to protect your knees to avoid that fate. Here’s the lowdown.
Knee Wrecker #1: Skipping Your Warmup
We know you’re strapped for time, and you want to make the most out of your run. But jumping right into a workout could really mess up your knees.
That’s because warming up lubricates the knee joint, circulates synovial fluid into the knee, improves muscle elasticity, and boosts oxygen flow to the area – reducing your chance of injury to the knees, according to Dr. Nicholas.
Knee Saver: Stretch Before Your Workout
“The most important thing you can do for your knees is give yourself an appropriate warm up period,” says Dr. Nicholas. “Stretching your lower legs is particularly key for long term running health. When the muscles are unevenly lengthened, the knee caps pull to the side, which causes wear or pain on the joint.”
Set aside at least 10 minutes before your workout to work on stretching, says Astrid Pujari, M.D., an integrative internist based in Seattle and author of The Healthy Knees Book. “Warming up lets your muscles gently strengthen, which is key for healthy knees,” she says.
The best warmup, says Dr. Nicolas, is a combination of low level cardio-activity, such as jogging or jumping jacks coupled with dynamic stretches that accentuate the motion you are targeting.
Then, when it comes time for your workout, make sure to include exercises that strengthen the muscles around your knee, like the quads, as well as your core, glutes, and abdominal muscles, says Dr. Pujari. This will help your knees with stability and mobility.
That’s important, since knees need a full range of motion – to move back and forth, twist a little, and pivot. This will protect you if you find yourself in an awkward position; increased flexibility stresses the joint less.