Our knees are weight-bearing joints and they carry a heavy load. We put so much pressure on them while walking, running, playing sports—and the list continues. Over time, this can cause knee cartilage to deteriorate, leading to knee pain and injury. But taking steps to preserve your knees now, no matter your age, can help prevent knee problems later on.
“The key to keeping your knees healthy so you don’t need surgery down the road is making lifestyle changes as soon as you can,” says Timothy Ekpo, D.O., an orthopedic surgeon with Henry Ford Health.
Here, Dr. Ekpo shares five ways to go easy on your knees.
1. Lead an active lifestyle.
Bike riding, swimming—any activity that requires your knees to go through a full range of motion—will enable the fluid that’s inside of your knees to lubricate the knees. This contributes to flexibility so you don’t get stiff knees.
There’s one catch: While all activities are great to living a healthy lifestyle, some are gentler on the knees than others. “If you can choose between activities like running and swimming, I would choose swimming because it eliminates gravity from the equation,” says Dr. Ekpo. “Activities where you’re pounding your joints can break down cartilage more quickly. Activities that don’t put an excessive load on the joints, like biking and swimming, are great. However, I don’t want to knock running—it’s definitely a heart-healthy exercise.”
If you do run, make sure you use proper form—and adhere to the rest of these knee-preserving tips!
2. Manage your weight and eat a healthy diet.
“Keeping your weight in a healthy range will help preserve your knees, as you won’t be putting excessive weight and pressure on them,” says Dr. Ekpo. Eating a balanced diet filled with fruits and vegetables will also provide nutrients that are the building blocks of cartilage production. And taking an over-the-counter glucosamine supplement can also help protect the knees, as it is a necessary ingredient in cartilage production.
3. Stretch often.
“Stretching is one of the most important things you can do to preserve your joints,” says Dr. Ekpo. “As you stretch, you prevent your ligaments and tendons from becoming overly tight. When they become tight and rigid, arthritis can more easily run its course. The more flexible and limber you are, the less likely you are to develop arthritis across your joints.”
4. If you sustain an injury, get it checked out right away.
If you don't go to the doctor, an acute injury could turn into a chronic injury, which will be more detrimental to your joints. It’s also important to allow time to let an injury to heal. “This is something a lot of people don’t do,” says Dr. Ekpo. “They go back to the offending activity too soon, which puts undue stress across the joints and facilitates further injury. Give your body enough time to heal from any injury you sustain.”
5. Wear sturdy, proper shoes.
If you wear shoes that are worn out (or shoes without a sturdy sole) it can shift the way you walk and run, making your knees more prone to deterioration and injury. “It probably goes without saying, then, that thin sandals and flip flops aren’t great for exercising in,” says Dr. Ekpo.
Timothy Ekpo, D.O., is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon, specializing in joint preservation, total joint replacement, and total hip and knee reconstruction. He sees patients at the Henry Ford Allegiance Orthopedic and Neuroscience Center in Jackson.