It’s still better to bypass knee injuries than to mend them, says John Von Arnim.
Greek mythology was way off base by singling out the heel as Achilles’ weak spot—the legendary warrior’s knees would probably have given him the most trouble as he jumped, lunged and kicked his way through sword fights.
But you don’t have to be a top-flight athlete or a special forces operative to suffer knee injury. President Bill Clinton famously tore a quadriceps tendon after missing a stair step. The knee is among the most easily injured of all body parts and the most frequently treated by orthopaedic surgeons in Australia and the US. Nearly half of all visits to orthopaedic surgeons for knee problems are injury related and the other 50 per cent are due to arthritis and other disorders.
Apart from arthritis, the most common knee injuries are tendonitis, bruising, cartilage tears and damaged ligaments. Simply walking down the stairs can cause a bad twist if you aren’t careful. After several years of playing basketball, some players develop patellar tendonitis — jumper’s knee — from the constant pounding and that’s just one of many sports-related knee problems.
The days of long incisions, pain and a lengthy recovery may have gone, thanks to advances in surgical technology and rehab therapy, but it’s still better to bypass knee injuries than to mend them.
Know Your Knees
The knee is a wonderful piece of engineering and can tolerate punishing stress year after year. If you look after them, they will continue to function well until you are over 100 years old. Compared to the ball and socket mechanism of the hip, the knee is a wonder of bone, tissue (the ligaments), shock absorbers (the meniscus) and smooth padding (the carriage) capable of supporting hundreds of kilos of weight.
Acting like a physical drawbridge between the body’s longest bones — the femur and the tibia — it’s amazing that so many of us almost unwittingly add even more stress to the knees.
We’re talking about weight gain. If you gain an extra five kilos, your knee interprets that as an additional 25 to 35 kilos because of the biomechanical demands placed upon it.
A lifetime of weighing too much has even more serious consequences. Osteoarthritis is a common knee problem, especially as we age. It’s not inevitable, though. The risk of developing this painful condition is associated more with excess weight than sex or race. The average risk of osteoarthritis for an obese person is 65 per cent and only 35 per cent for someone of normal weight.
A person with a history of knee injuries is also at greater risk of developing osteoarthritis in older age so it’s best to take extra care during your younger years.
Reduce the Risk of Knee Injuries
Prevention is better than cure when it comes to most things but it’s crucial in looking after your knees and to head off surgery in your future.
To keep your knees strong and flexible, you must exercise regularly throughout your life. Remember, a common source of knee pain is sitting for long periods. Squats and leg lifts are great for strengthening knees and so is walking. And thank fate you’re a man. Guys play more potentially damaging pivot/shift sports such as rugby and soccer, but because of female hormones, wider hips and a narrower notch at the knees, women are five times more likely than men to snap a ligament.
Healthy Knee Tips
1. It’s old advice but always warm up before vigorous exercise by stretching and running on the spot to prevent knee and muscle injury.
2. Wind down after a workout by again running and limbering the leg muscles.
3. Strong muscles in the upper thigh and lower leg give the knee more stability— so train hard to if make them fighting fit, not flabby. An estimated one in five runners develops a knee injury. If you pound along regularly, you should be especially careful to keep leg muscles strong because the repeated motion of running can jumpstart knee problems.
4. Many knee injuries are caused by increasing the amount of exercise you do too fast. When you re-boot a fitness campaign, gradually increase the intensity from week to week. Never double the amount of exercise you do from one week to the next.
5. It sounds like a Billy Elliott-style ballet instruction, but always align your knees properly while exercising.
6. Wearing the right athletic shoes with proper arch supports and cushioning is mandatory in holding knee problems at bay. And try to run on soft, not hard surfaces.
7. Know thyself. Many people are born with weaker knees — it’s not an admission that you are a wuss. If you’ve injured your knees before or don’t feel comfortable running or skiing, choose fitness activities that cause the least amount of stress to the knees, like swimming and cycling.
8. Don’t push yourself too hard when exercising. That doesn’t mean being a slacker, it means recognising when you’re tired. Most knee injuries occur because of fatigue.
9. You can’t wrap yourself in cotton wool. If a sudden injury happens a torn ligament, sprain or strain — the best on-the-spot remedy is RICE: Rest (stop using the knee at once), Ice wrap (some ice in a towel and apply to the knee to reduce swelling and bruising); Compression wrap (a bandage securely over the ice on the knee, but not too tightly); Elevation (Sit or lie down and raise your knee above shoulder level to prevent fluid pooling at the joint). Then have the injury looked at by a doctor as soon as you can.