If you’re wondering how to prevent knee pain in old age, the answer often comes down to taking steps today to reduce your risk. By reducing your risk for the nine most common causes and risk factors for knee pain, you can prevent a large possibility of knee pain in your future.
How does anatomy prevent knee pain, and cause it?
The knee is a joint made of four bones: the femur, tibia, fibula and patella. There are a series of muscles that also support the knee, including the quadriceps and hamstrings. Finally, these are all joined together by a carefully woven set of ligaments, meniscus, and tendons. Precious cartilage provides necessary cushioning for comfortable movement.
The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) are perhaps most critical for proper knee movement. The knee is also surrounded by fluid filled sacs called bursae that provide additional cushioning.
Since it’s such a complex joint, it can sustain most of the demands we place on it every day. However, these same joints and tendons can become inflamed, leading to pain. Likewise, the delicate structures of the knee can become injured leading to pain. We’ll talk about some of the risk factors you can work to reduce today to prevent knee pain in the future from these causes.
What are the most common risk factors for knee pain?
One of the largest risk factors for knee pain is age. Age increases the risk for a variety of conditions leading to knee pain, including osteoarthritis. Older people are also more likely to have weakened muscles. They are also more vulnerable to injury while playing sports or participating in normal daily activities.
A study in the journal Osteoarthritis and Cartilage found that the risk factors for knee pain and osteoarthritis are essentially the same: age, extra weight, history of knee injury, and having a job that places extra stress on the knee. Increased age and unhappiness with a person’s job had a greater impact on the incidence of knee pain than the other factors.
However, the best way how to prevent knee pain in old age is to avoid risk factors when you’re younger. Knee pain often results from osteoarthritis or sports injuries. These other nine risk factors for knee pain involve lifestyle choices that can you can manage to reduce or prevent knee pain in the future.
1. Extra Weight
Extra weight is one of the largest risk factors for knee pain. The knee supports much of the body’s weight, and too much weight taxes the joint and increases the likelihood of pain. Anterior knee pain, which develops at the front and center, is one of the more common types of knee pain associated with carrying extra weight. Inactivity or muscle weakness, both associated with being overweight, can exacerbate the condition.
Obesity stresses the structure of the knee, including the patella—the medical term for the kneecap. The patella already supports forces that are equivalent to as much as five times the body’s weight. A combination of weight loss and muscle strengthening can alleviate chronic pain related to obesity, although surgery is sometimes needed.
2. Muscles Weakness
The knee connects the thighbone—also known as the femur—to the shinbone—also known as the tibia. Having strong quadriceps muscles helps to stabilize the knee joint and keep it healthy.
And improving muscular fitness can be one of the best ways how to prevent knee pain, even if you’re older. Women who had weak quadriceps were found to experience worse knee pain over the 5 years of the study, even when accounting for weight, level of exercise, and any history of knee surgery. Women with the weakest quadriceps experienced a 28% greater risk that their knee pain would worsen.
The connection between strength of the quadriceps and knee pain did not hold true for men.
Developing the right muscles can also help protect against one of the more serious knee injuries—a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). Athletes involved in sports where they jump and quickly accelerate and decelerate are particularly susceptible to torn ACLs. However, strong quadriceps and hamstring muscles can help insulate the knee from stress.
A cause of muscle weakness and obesity—inactivity—is also another factor for knee pain. People who are inactive are less strong, less flexible, and more sedentary. When the time comes to move and exercise, there is a greater risk of injury.
Inactivity has also been found to make knee pain from arthritis worse. Being sedentary results in muscle deterioration that weakens the knee and increases pain.
4. Not Resting after Injury
Injured people who don’t rest their knees for a long enough period of time increase their risk of re-injury. Although recovery periods can last anywhere from several weeks to several months, taking the time to allow the body to adequately repair and heal is critical for allowing the knee to regain its strength.
Resting is particularly difficult for athletes and other active people, but spending some quality time on the couch will go a long way to keeping the knees healthy and protecting against future injury.
Smoking increases the risk of a host of health problems, and knee pain can be added to the list. Quitting smoking is one of the best ways how to prevent knee pain when you get older. A study found that smoking increased the risk for both cartilage loss and knee pain in men who had developed osteoarthritis in the knee. Because smoking affected the amount of cartilage the men had in their knees, it increased the amount of pain they experienced.
People who work in intense, manual-labor jobs are more likely to develop knee pain. Occupations associated with increased risk factors for knee pain included carpenters, miners, and construction workers. Carpenters and miners are at the highest risk. These jobs involve frequent knee bending, sitting, or standing for long periods of time in unnatural positions, along with heavy lifting. Of those individuals studied, 28% reported knee pain.
If you are in one of these fields, make sure you talk to your doctor about ways to prevent your risk. These may include physical therapy or the use of braces.