Knee pain, inflammation, and associated problems are common among aging populations. In most instances, problems with the knee are a direct result of osteoarthritis, which is the wearing away of the cartilage surrounding the knee.
This is the bad news.
The good news is, in most instances, it is possible to postpone issues associated with the knee and even prevent those issues. This is especially true if you elect to work with a physical therapist. In doing so, you have the potential to keep your knees in the best shape possible and completely avoid the need for either medication or surgical intervention.
Throughout this guide, you will read more about these simple strategies for maintaining and even improving knee health.
What Happens to the Knees as We Age?
In order to understand why you should make an attempt to keep your knees healthy as you age, you should first gather an understanding of what happens to this area of the body as we age. With each and every step we take, the knees absorb massive levels of pressure. In most instances, this is equal to one and a half times that which we weigh.
Over time, this pressure and the basic wear and tear that occurs starts to take its toll. Weakness starts to occur in the ligaments and the muscles. The cartilage in the knee that act as shock absorbers starts to break down. This is called the “Menisci”.
The cartilage located at the very ends of the bones of the legs that connect at the knee also starts to experience a certain degree of deterioration.
If you are considered to be “overweight”, have suffered from a knee injury, have utilized your knee frequently in your line of work or in participating in sports and/or exercise activities, or have a family history of any type of arthritis – particularly osteoarthritis – you are immediately more prone to knee deterioration.
Eventually, the cartilage will wear down completely, resulting in the bones scrapping against each other. This causes the development of inflammation, varying degrees of stiffness, and moderate to severe pain.
Anti-Aging Measures for Protecting the Knees
While we all experience some degree of damage and strain as we age, there are many techniques that you may use to act as anti-aging measures for protecting the knees. Here are the steps to take to keep your knees healthy as you grow older:
- Drop Unnecessary Weight – Consult with your doctor to determine your ideal weight, based on your gender, height, and general level of health. Then, try to achieve that weight. For motivation, understood that for every 1 pound that you are overweight, it places another 4 pounds (in terms of pressure) on your joints. Drop unnecessary weight to alleviate the pressure placed on the knee joints.
- Optimize Range of Motion – As we age, our joints may become stiffer. Those with a high range of motion have been discovered to have fewer issues with their knee joints. Create a regimen to boost your range of motion and keep those muscles stretched and strong.
- Increase Muscle Strength – Engage in exercises that increase muscle strength around the knee. The muscles absorb all of the stress placed on the knees, so the stronger your knees are, the more stabilized they will be. Work with your doctor or physical therapist to create a personalized strengthening program specifically for your knees.
Osteoarthritis Physical Therapy
If you suffer from osteoarthritis of the knee, the first step you will need to take in order to keep it as healthy as possible is to sign up for osteoarthritis physical therapy.
The professional that you work with will help you maintain a balance that will allow you to keep your knees moving, but will ensure that they are as strong and healthy as possible.
You will be provided with both passive and active physical therapy techniques in osteoarthritis physical therapy. The difference is in passive therapy, the therapist does more of the work and in active therapy, you do more of the work. Below, we have outlined measures utilized in each of these types of physical therapy:
Passive Physical Therapy:
- Hydrotherapy – This is – basically – water therapy. It may be called “aquatic therapy”. The water will help reduce the symptoms associated with osteoarthritis in the knee. You will actually be submerged in the water while doing the exercises that the physical therapist prescribes to you. This helps reduce the amount of pressure placed on the joints. It will also help in alleviating pain.
- Cold Therapy – By utilizing a cold compress, the therapist will reduce the amount of circulation in and around the knees. In turn, this helps to decrease the amount of inflammation in the area.
- Heat Therapy – By using a hot heat pad, the therapist will be able to increase the amount of blood flow in and around the knees in order to decrease stiffness and promote healing.
Active Physical Therapy:
- Flexibility Activities – Osteoarthritis of the knee may result in complications in movement. A physical therapist will provide you with flexibility exercises in order to provide a boost to your body’s general range of motion.
- Strengthening Exercises – The physical therapist will provide you with exercises that are designed to strengthen the muscles and the ligaments of the knee and the surrounding areas. Knee ligament exercises – for example – may be provided and these are highly beneficial for restoring the normal functioning of the joints in the knees and for reducing pain.
Knee Ligament Exercises
Many people do not realize it, but the knee is actually the largest joint located in the body. It is highly susceptible to both pain and injury due to the fact that it is used so regularly.
Many physical therapists will prescribe knee ligament exercises, which are designed to strengthen the knees. The following outlines the most commonly prescribed knee ligament exercises by physical therapists that work closely with patients desiring to boost the health of the knees as they age:
- Leg Lifts – These knee ligament exercises utilize the quadricep muscles that are situated on the front side of the thigh and the abdominal muscles that are around the stomach. These are quite easy to perform. Simply lie on the floor with a mat and bend one leg at the knee, and lift the remaining leg – being sure to keep it straight. You just lift the leg about a foot off of the ground and hold it. Then, lower it and do the same with the opposite side.
- Step Exercises – This knee ligament exercise uses the gluteal muscles, the quadriceps, the hip flexors, and the hamstrings. You must use a stool or stepper to perform the exercise. You just step up with one leg, hold the body in position, step down and switch sides.
- Wall Squats – This knee ligament exercise only uses the gluteal muscles and the quadriceps. Spread the feet out about two feet from a wall, learn your upper body against the wall, and slide down into a sitting position, hold, and go back up. You should do this exercise several times.
Meniscus Physical Therapy
If you suffer from a meniscus tear or meniscus injury, you will be required to have meniscus physical therapy. A personalized treatment plan will be created that may include manual therapy, cold therapy, heat therapy, compression, neuromuscular electrical stimulation, assistive devices, strengthening exercises, counseling on fitness, and range of motion improvement activities. To learn more about effective treatments for meniscal injury, click HERE.
The knees are a highly critical component of your overall health. You should work closely with a physical therapist to ensure that they remain as healthy as possible as you age. To learn more about this process, contact us today by calling: 303-832-5577