It is always better to prevent osteoarthritis in the knee rather than try to fix it after it happens, however that is not always the situation. In any case, there are a number of things you can do to keep your knee and leg healthy and prevent further damage.
To stabilize your knee joint and increase your range of motion, maintain and build the strength and flexibility of your quadriceps, hamstrings, calf muscles and hip flexors. Strengthening exercises will help to keep your knee strong which will prevent further injuries (leg lifts with light weight or exercise bands are very beneficial), and stretching exercises will help to keep your leg muscles and joints supple (yoga, tai chi, daily stretching routine). Proprioceptive (balancing) exercises will also help to retrain your position or “joint sense”.
The old saying, “If you don’t use it, you will lose it,” is really true. Avoid staying still or keeping your joints in the same position for too long, to prevent stiffening up from the osteoarthritis. For cartilage to remain healthy, it must be subjected to weight-bearing exercises. Therefore, a regular exercise program that focuses on total body fitness and includes low-impact aerobic activity at least 3 days per week, such as walking, swimming or biking will help to keep you healthy overall and will strengthen your knee. The Archives of Internal Medicine noted that participation in moderate physical activity 3 times per week can reduce your risk of arthritis-related disability by 47% [2001;161(19):2309-2316].
Maintaining appropriate body weight is very important, as extra pounds will put extra pressure on your joints. Therefore stick to a well-balanced diet comprised with lots of protein, calcium, carbohydrates, essential vitamins, minerals and fatty acids, drink lots of water, and minimize your intake of processed foods, alcohol, caffeine and nicotine. Vitamins and/or natural supplements have also been known to aid your aching joints and rebuild cartilage. An article published by Arthritis & Rheumatism in 1998 noted that, by losing as little as 11 pounds you can reduce your risk of developing knee osteoarthritis by 50%. If you are living a healthy lifestyle, you will tend to have a healthy mindset, and will be much more equipped to deal with stress and manage your emotional health. You will be able to deal with the fatigue, frustration and depression that often accompany a disability due to arthritis of the knee. Choose appropriate equipment for your body type and size:
- Knee supports as required during activities (bracing/strapping/taping your knee for extra support).
- Foot supports to help keep your body aligned (heal wedges or orthotics).
- Cushioned shoes that fit your feet and are suitable for your sport (shock absorbing insoles, stabilizing heels, strong shank for twisting).
- Mobility aids (rails, canes or walkers), reaching aids, or bathroom aids to help alleviate symptoms and improve functions, especially with older populations who suffer from osteoarthritis of the knee.
Avoid doing too much to soon to give your body an opportunity to build up its endurance, and to protect your joints from injury and overuse. This is especially important when participating in a new activity. Gradually increase your participation to prevent overstraining your muscles and joints. Always warm up and cool down your leg muscles before and after working them, and learn the proper form and techniques for your activity.
If you are suffering from knee arthritis pain, listen to your body and decrease, modify and/or avoid any activities or motions that cause pain and irritation (twisting, squatting, kneeling, heavy lifting, climbing and running, walking on uneven terrain). Try to walk on softer surfaces such as cinder or grass, rather than pavement if going long distances. If you are required to perform these motions at work or play and cannot avoid them, make sure you take frequent breaks and rest your knee to prevent fatigue and pain. It is important not to rush your recovery to prevent further damage.
If you suffer from mild inflammation or pain after certain activities or movements, implement RCCE – when you complete the activity, then rest your knee, apply a cold compression wrap, and elevate your knee. You can also use anti-inflammatory medication for arthritis pain relief if required.
If you have been given a treatment plan by your health professional, make sure you adhere to it to ensure pain free living. In general, people who are committed to their therapies and exercises will have the best medical outcomes.