Three bones make up the knee joint, the largest joint in the body. We need our knees to walk and perform virtually every other activity of daily living, so it’s no surprise that injury, disease, and obesity can lead to significant wear and tear on your knees.
According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, orthopedic surgeons perform more than 600,000 knee replacement surgeries every year in the United States. An aging population, increased life expectancy, and obesity are contributing factors to the steady rise in these procedures.
While knee replacement surgeries are common and very successful procedures — most knee replacement joints last 15–20 years or more — there are steps you can take now to potentially reduce your likelihood of eventually needing this surgery.
Control Your Weight
According to the Arthritis Foundation, every pound of extra weight you carry exerts approximately four pounds of added pressure on your knee joints. This means if you are 20 pounds overweight, you are walking around with an extra 80 pounds of force on your knee joints.
People who are overweight are more likely to develop osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis, as the excess weight hastens cartilage breakdown. Excess fat in the body also causes inflammation, which can lead to other serious health problems.
Losing weight can also help lessen any knee or other joint pain you are currently experiencing. If you’re overweight, seek advice from your physician on the best ways to lose excess fat. Changing your eating habits is often the best place to start.
Don’t Put Off Exercise
Diet alone rarely nets long-term weight loss results — you also need to get moving. Unfortunately, exercising when you’re overweight can be difficult and exert even more pressure on your knee joints.
The best way around this challenge is to start with swimming. When you are in water, there is little to no impact on your joints. Swimming laps is a zero-impact activity whereas other aquatic activities, such as water aerobics, have very little impact on your joints. Any time you are floating in the water, you are taking pressure off your knee joints.
Swimming and aquatic exercise is also good for keeping your muscles stretched and toned as well as strengthening your cardiovascular system. For someone who is overweight, too sedentary, and wants to protect their knee joints, aquatic activities are ideal.
Weight-bearing exercises are also important. Not only do weight-bearing exercises strengthen your bones, they also keep the muscles surrounding your bones in good shape. This is important should you ever reach the point where you need knee replacement surgery as your muscles need to be able to support your new joints.
Many aquatic centers offer fitness classes that include the use of weights. Once you build up endurance, consider weight-bearing exercises outside the pool. Riding your bicycle or using an elliptical machine are other good low-impact exercise options.
Wear the Right Shoes
High heels force the foot into an abnormal position. Naturally, this adds stress to the surrounding ligaments, joints, cartilage, and muscles. High heels also adversely affect your posture and increase your likelihood of falling, which can lead to injuries.
Choose high quality shoes specifically tailored for individual activities. For example, don’t wear sandals when you go on your nightly walk. Visit a specialty shoe store and have them measure your feet to find your correct shoe size. Your orthopedist or podiatrist can provide recommendations on the right types of footwear for you.
Watching your weight, exercising, and wearing proper footwear are no guarantee against future knee joint problems and knee replacement surgery, but they can help reduce pain and improve overall health. If you are concerned about your knees or any other joint, contact us at the Omaha Orthopedic Clinic and Sports Medicine today to schedule an appointment.