According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, every year more than 4 million people see surgeons for knee problems, and orthopedists treat knees more than any other part of the body.
The number of sufferers has grown because of "weekend warriors" and people who try athletics (like skiing) only occasionally, and then get into trouble with their knees.
There are two common causes of knee pain:
- Gradual discomfort that occurs when people walk, but that goes away with rest could be osteoarthritis, a disease that affects the cartilage of the knee. The cartilage between the two bones - the hinge of the knee - slowly degenerates, leading to bone rubbing against bone and causing pain. The problem could be weight- or age-related.
- The other type of common knee pain is injury to the ligaments of the knee. If the pain is sudden, and there is a lot of swelling, the problem may be a ligament. Often people will hear a popping noise, and the pain may occur following strenuous physical activity.
To alleviate the discomfort, orthopedists have basic treatment that can be remembered with the acronym, RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. If the pain persists, do not ignore it, but consult a doctor. For chronic pain, some physicians may suggest an over-the counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication.
Last year, there were 250,000 injuries to the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament). Many professional athletes get this type of injury, but increasingly women who work out on the weekends.
Knee injury can be prevented by maintaining a healthy weight and doing basic exercises.
Sonya Rzepski, a fitness trainer at the Crunch Fitness Gym in New York City, suggests four warmup exercises that people can do to keep their knees healthy and strong. Rzepski says the mild workout can be done for 5-10 minutes, at home, or in a gym. Leg weights can also be used in the exercises to add more resistance and strengthen muscles.
Quadricep Stretch. Before doing the following three exercises, it's important to warm up with this stretch. Grab your foot, pull it up toward the buttocks, keeping the knees together and the hips forward. Make sure to stretch the knees with this exercise.
Quadricep Exercise. Sittin upright in a chair, slowly bend your right knee upwards so that your leg is raised just below a locked-in position. Carefully lower the leg back down.
Hamstring Curl Exercise. Standing and resting your hands on the back of a chair for support, bend your leg back from the knee so that one foot is raised and pointed toward the buttocks.
Knee Flex Exercise. While seated or standing, stretch your leg forward so that the heel is touching the floor. Flex the toes up and stretch over to touch them.
Keeping the quadriceps and the hamstring strong is important in preventing knee injuries and pain.
Those who have consulted a doctor and have been diagnosed with osteoarthritis should watch their weight. And weekend warriors should always warm up with knee exercises to prevent ligament problems.