An estimated one out of three Americans reports experiencing knee pain regularly according to the American Osteopathic Association. That's no surprise considering knee replacement surgeries have grown in demand exponentially over the past few decades – in fact, the number of people requesting a total knee replacement surgery is expected to exceed 3 million by the year 2030 according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
What's happening to cause this drastic rise in need for invasive knee treatments and therapies? Experts associate this trend with climbing rates of obesity, as well as generally longer life spans and older adults staying in the workforce longer than they used to.
It turns out that much knee pain is actually preventable though by avoiding these common mistakes and lifestyle habits:
Lack of flexibility and strength: Weakened and stiff muscles, tendons, and ligaments in and around the joint of the knee can pose an increased threat of injury with overuse, athletic activity, or impact. Why? A huge amount of stress is placed on the knee joints, even with simple movements like walking and standing.
The connective tissues around the knee need to be able to properly stabilize and support fluid movement of the joint, and when they are not limber and pliable but tight and constrained, it is harder for them to absorb the shock of your movements. They are more likely to strain, tear, or do a poor job of stabilizing connected bones and tendons.
Poor form and technique: Drastically increasing your running mileage in a short period of time? Tend to overpronate when walking? Poor form and technique with walking and running can place added stress and strain on everything from the foot and ankle, to the lower leg, knee, thigh and hips.
Spending significant time walking on a slope can cause the IT band that runs along your thigh from the hip to your knee to tighten and rub against the femur, thus leading to knee pain. Bad posture overtime can cause pelvic tilt, a hip imbalance that affects the way you sit, stand, and walk, leading to knee and leg pain as well. These are just a couple examples of how basic body positioning, posture, and form can significantly impact knee health.
Being overweight. Not only does putting on additional pounds increase your risk for diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic illnesses, but it can negatively affect your knee strength and performance. Added pounds exacerbate the stress placed on internal pressure points in and around the knee, leading to greater wear and tear every time they absorb the shock of your walking and physical activity.
Being overweight and obese also makes it more difficult to stay active and maintain a balanced diet. Inactivity and spending large amounts of time in sedentary environments, i.e. watching TV, on the computer, etc., makes joints and muscles, especially the knees, more susceptible to injury and strain, and can magnify bad posture habits.
High impact sports: While staying active through athletics is important to overall physical and mental health, there are some sports which are simply worse on the knees than others. Think about the constant bending and straightening of the knee that alpine skiing requires, for example, or the constant shock of jumping and landing when playing basketball.
An epidemiology report spanning 5 years that looked at rates of knee injuries among high school athletes found that on average, football players sustained the most knee injuries while girls in comparable sports, including soccer, actually experienced the highest rate of knee injuries. Over 20% of knee injuries, most commonly ACL and MCL tears, were treated with surgery. Experts acknowledge too that previous injury to the knee can also make those connective tendons and ligaments more vulnerable to future damage.
Not addressing knee pain: Some knee pain can be caused by a serious medical condition which requires treatment like bursitis of the knee, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, tumors, cysts, and gout. Even for those conditions, both noninvasive and invasive treatments are available, but only if you seek medical treatment.
How do you know if your knee pain isn't normal? If you are prevented from bearing weight on your knee, if you notice a growth, swelling, or deformity, if you hear a popping or crunching sound when bending and flexing, or if you have any mobility limitations at all due to knee weakness or discomfort, schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider today!