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Fitness Addicts Beware—You Could Be Seriously Damaging Your Knees

Posted on: by Michelle October
A woman hurting her knees with her workout

By Jeanne Erdmann; photography by Sean Laurenz

Are your workouts causing major wear and tear?

Nope, Osteoarthritis (OA) isn’t something that only affects your grandmother — this progressive joint disease is on the increase among young women, most commonly affecting the knees.

WTF is Osteoarthritis? 

Osteoarthritis, or  the degeneration of cartilage in the bone, is on the rise. In 2000, just over 53 000 American women ages 20 to 39 saw a doctor for a diagnosis of OA. 10 Years later, that number skyrocketed to 230 000. “Doctors are beginning to see women in their twenties with end-stage joint disease,” says orthopaedic surgeon Dr Zackary Vaughn. And, experts are pinning the cause down to — you guessed it — obesity.

READ MORE: Have You Got (Un)Happy Feet?

Carrying those extra kilos around puts major pressure on your knees. In fact, according to experts, as little as three or four extra kilograms can strain the joint. And if you regularly participate in high-impact activities as well, your knees are more likely to take a pounding.

Risk Factors

Tons of things could lead to damaged knees. Jumping and landing even a tiny bit off balance (even without carrying extra weight), or twisting the knee after planting the foot on the ground, can destroy the joint in seconds.

READ MORE: Are You Making This Workout Mistake?

Starting out very young and specialising in one sport can add to your knees’ wear and tear. But you don’t need to be a pro athlete to experience the effects of a fitness routine that’s overloaded with repetitive motion – think logging kays on the treadmill.

Protect Your Knees

Give your knees some TLC by keeping up a healthy weight. Smoking is a no-no, because ingredients in cigarettes may harm cells that keep cartilage healthy. High heels also stress your joints because they make you walk with a shortened gait, which puts extra force on the inside of the knee, says orthopaedic surgeon Dr Constance Chu.

READ MORE: 6 Running Pains — And How To Treat Them So They Don’t Come Back

Worried you’ve already damaged your joints? Mild or moderate pain that comes and goes with exercise is common, but if you regularly feel the same pain in the same part of the knee for more than three weeks and it doesn’t respond to anti-inflammatories, a reduced exercise regimen or ice, it’s time to get the knee evaluated by a specialist. Swelling, clicking, popping, dull throbbing in cold weather, or feeling that the knee is unsteady are also signs of damage, says Vaughn.

The Knee-Friendly Workout 

Get your sweat on while protecting your joints with cross-training and aerobic fitness — they improve balance, so you’re less likely to take a tumble. Jumps and modified squats boost core strength, which stabilises your knees. Low-impact workouts on a stationary bike or elliptical build leg muscles while going easy on the joints. “Muscle mass and strength around the knee can give you better joint longevity, because strong muscles share more of the load,” says Chu. The time and sweat you put into keeping your knees healthy will help you get — and stay — pain-free.

Need to rehab your muscles and joints? Try this beginner’s guide to foam rolling to help work out those aches and pains.

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