Tips for keeping knees stronger as you age

September 28, 2011 2:45:47 PM PDT
Knee surgeries, including artificial knee replacements, have doubled over the past ten years. Injuries and arthritis are taking a toll.

Surgery can have great success, but that's a last resort. There are some prevention measures we can to protect the knee joint as we age and stay physically active.

Arthur Spitalnick, 56, had arthroscopic surgery to remove a torn cartilage in the right knee in August.

"The knee wasn't extending and bending fully. It was uncomfortable to say the least," he said.

Arthur's operation is common in the country for some knee problems, but you may avoid a trip to the operating room. You can do things that protect your knees. First, if you're heavy, lose weight.

"As we exercise as we walk, all that weight is transmitted through the joint and contributes the wearing down process that occurs normal in the knee," Dr. Elliott Hershman, of Lenox Hill Hospital, said.

Avoid twisting sports such as soccer, tennis, skiing which increase knee stress. But exercise is critical, especially for weight loss. The best ones for the knees are swimming, the elliptical machine and cycling.

"If I get on the bike on the weekend, I'll go for a 30 to 40 minute ride," Arthur said.

You can strengthen the critical front and back thigh muscles at home, to protect the knee or rehab it after injury.

Also, avoid walking stairs, which can put a lot of stress on knees. Look for an elevator or an escalator.

Injections of artificial joint fluid called hyaluronic acid are for more severe osteoarthritis - the most common type. They may extend the time before a patient needs knee replacement surgery.

"Treatments like hyaluronic acid may be helpful in maintaining an active lifestyle," Dr. Hershmann said.

Arthur is having less and less knee pain since his surgery. Dr. Hershman says cross-training, doing several sports, is the best way to strengthen knee muscles. As for knee braces, they don't prevent injuries, but can help protect knees after an operation, and may help some arthritis patients avoid surgery.