Here’s a fun fact: babies are born without kneecaps. They only start to ossify (turn to bone) between the ages of 3 and 5, but will slowly lose their strength with age. How is it that the most complicated and largest joint in our body can have such an interesting life cycle? Nur Fahimah finds out!
Picture this: your kneecap is a marionette and the muscles, tendons and ligaments around it are the strings controlling it.
When these strings are pulled correctly, the puppet should move smoothly and naturally. Should any of these strings be pulled with more force as compared to the others, it will not glide smoothly. This can cause discomfort and more often than not, damage to the kneecap. The muscles, tendons and ligaments holding the kneecap in place may also be torn or stretched, resulting in swelling.
In short, a wrong move or an accidental exertion can damage your knees; the extent of which can take the form of either an injury or osteoarthritis.
The Fragility of Knees
Most people assume that their knees will not cause them any issues until mid-40s. That’s where you are wrong. The deterioration of the knees' health knows no age or gender.
Firstly, people who are active in sports that involve high impact routines are more susceptible to knee injury. Secondly, men and women above the age of 55 are at higher risk of suffering from osteoarthritis. Thirdly, the regular carrying out of certain exercises that focus on exertion at the knees can affect the knees' condition in the long run. That’s not to say you should stop exercising entirely. Even those who do not exercise risk having weak knees or may experience stiffness and discomfort!
To add on to the list, there are various mindless bad habits that can have tremendous impact on your knees’ health too. They include:
- POOR BODY POSTURE
Your body posture can affect your body’s alignment. Slouching at the shoulder or waist and resting your weight on just one leg while standing means the muscles, ligaments and joints around the knees may take more strain than they are able to endure. These strains will result in exertion on that particular knee and lead to further damage on your knee joints.
- WEARING ILL-FITTING SHOES
Certain shoes can cause the body weight to be unevenly distributed and this exerts stress on the knees. As such, avoid shoes that throw your stride off. Those who have special anatomical conditions such as abnormal arches, uneven leg length and bowed legs can opt for custom shoes that can correct their stride and lessen the impact on the knees.
- UNHEALTHY BODY WEIGHT
Your knees bear the brunt of your weight so if your Body Mass Index (BMI) is more than 25, you are compromising your knees' health. Obesity is one of the contributing factors to osteoarthritis, as it speeds up the breakdown of the knee's cartilage. That is why it is of utmost importance that you maintain a healthy BMI.
In fact, reducing your body fat by 2kg translates to taking approximately 4kg of weight off the knees! Therefore, lose excess weight to help reduce the risk of knee damage.
Never Too Late for Change
Knee injuries that damage the joint surface may lead to arthritis in the years after so take precautionary measures now, to ensure the health of your knees and save yourself the pain and time needed to rehabilitate them in the future!
Drink More Milk
Milk contains Calcium and Vitamin D which helps keep bones strong. Having strong bones can prevent joint injury when you fall. Other sources of calcium include green leafy vegetables like broccoli and kale.
Take More Walks
Aside from swimming and cycling, walking is an example of a low impact-exercise that can ease knee pain, strengthen leg muscle and even improve your posture. It does not matter if you have stiff or sore knees, start slow and you will eventually get used to it.
Raise Your Heels
Start by standing tall with both feet shoulder width apart. Holding the back of a chair for support, lift your heels off the ground until you are balancing on the balls of your feet. Hold this position for about 3 seconds and gently lower both feet back to the ground. Repeat for 10 sets. Doing this exercise not only gives you better balance, but also strengthens the muscles around your kneecap to prevent any serious injury.
Stretch Your Muscles
One important rule to abide to prevent knee injury is to not stretch cold muscles. Stretching cold muscles can cause damage and tear. A light warm up is sufficient to loosen up the joints, ligaments and tendons. It is also essential to stretch the Ilitio-Tibial Band (ITB), a structure often forgotten but is one of the main causes of knee pain in runners. ITB is a layer of fascia (something similar to the skin but thicker), which connects to a muscle at the side of the hip and runs on the outer side of the tibia (leg bone) until it attaches into the shinbone. Due to the lack of stretch receptors in this structure, it is recommended to use a foam roller to stretch your IT band.