We are suffering from an epidemic of pain in Canada -- 18.9 per cent of Canadians over age of 18 said they experience some form of chronic pain, and that includes knee pain. In many cases, knee pain results in surgery: Canada is the ninth most common country for knee replacement surgery in the world -- 143 out of every 100,000 people have the procedure, and knee surgery rates are climbing. That's a lot of pain, and a lot of surgery.
The truth is, nearly everyone's knees will give them trouble eventually. Depending on how old you are, at some point, the knee just degenerates. I call this kind of degenerative joint disease the Final Common Pathway. As a knee surgeon who has helped thousands of patients with knee pain, I know there are treatments and options that can not only reduce the pain, but also postpone knee surgery -- or avoid it entirely.
Here are my 8 keys to knee health:
The more you know about your knee in terms of specific conditions, pain control, lifestyle changes and what you can expect from a treatment, the better you can manage the outcome. Being educated helps you have reasonable expectations for how your knees work and feel, and helps you maximize how they perform. The more you know, the better you can communicate with your physician, and understand the benefits and risks of medical and surgical options.
Pay attention to the what, not the why.
Simple as it appears on the outside, the knee is one of the largest, most complex joints in the human body, and many common causes of knee pain: arthritis, ligament tears, cysts in the back of the knee, pain behind the kneecap, or trauma to knee bones, ligaments and tendons. But for most adults, what you do to treat the knee is more important than why it went "bad." Many of the best treatments are the same regardless of the cause, and can help postpone or even eliminate the need for surgery.
Commit to a knee-centric lifestyle.
The decision to change your lifestyle is a big step toward improving the health and strength of your knees. Among knee pain's causes, most are not serious or rare, and some are not even located in the knees, such as back pain. Moreover, studies have linked depression and knee pain. So taking better care of your physical and mental health will further benefit your knees. These don't have to be radical changes: the simplest changes can help stave off the prospect of knee surgery.
Lighten up: cut your portions in half.
For each pound your body carries, your knees endure four pounds of pressure. If you weigh 200 pounds, 800 pounds are exerted on your knees as you walk -- and it's more so during strenuous activities such as climbing stairs or jogging. Even losing ten pounds relieves 40 pounds of pressure on your knees. Though patients often counter they're in too much pain to exercise, exercise is actually a minor component of the weight loss puzzle. What you eat is more important, and one incredibly effective way to lose weight is to cut your portions in half.
Drink more water.
Water is vital to knee maintenance. All knees contain cartilage: soft spongy tissue that lines the ends of our joints and enables pain-free motion. Cartilage is comprised mostly of water -- up to 80 per cent when we're properly hydrated. But the older we get, the lower the water content gets (to as low as 70 per cent), which can result in unhealthy cartilage, hastening the onset of degenerative joint disease. And, drinking a glass of water before and after each meal helps control your appetite.
Take glucosamine and turmeric.
It's true that the powers that be frown upon doctors recommending supplements. But many doctors, including myself, believe that supplements -- generally safer than many other treatments -- are worth the try. I recommend glucosamine sulfate and turmeric. Both have anti-inflammatory properties. The National Institutes of Health state that glucosamine sulfate is "likely effective" for treating osteoarthritis. Turmeric is a well-studied and historic natural remedy, and recent research found it eases pain as effectively as ibuprofren.
Movement is vital to knee maintenance -- again, related to cartilage. Unlike most other tissues in the body, cartilage lacks blood vessels to carry nutrients into it. So knee cartilage depends on movement to stay alive, healthy, and heal. Choose your favourite activity (even walking), and build up to 30 minutes a day, five days a week. It doesn't have to be done all at once. Include warming up and stretching. Play music (it's a motivator), and find an exercise buddy to stay on track.
Start a knee exercise routine.
A short routine of standing and seated exercises can do wonders to improve knee strength, flexibility and mobility. I recommend a 10-minute series for my knee patients that includes hip abductions and extensions, marching, sit to stand/stand to sit, heel raises, hamstring curls, mini-lunges, and squats. Even if you're already heading for surgery, remember: the kind of shape you're in before surgery has a huge impact on how you are when you come out of it.
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“You've got to establish the ‘why’ before moving to the ‘what’ and ‘how,’” said Greg Justice, a veteran personal trainer with more than 30 years of fitness industry experience and owner of AYC Health & Fitness. At first, this might seem like a one-time step that only needs to be taken at the beginning of your journey, but it’s actually more like a habit — something you should revisit and reestablish often. “If your ‘why,’ or motivation behind the life changes, is strong enough, you'll find the ‘what’ and ‘how’ will be successful,” Justice said. He encourages people to really dig deep in order to find internal motivators (your ‘why,’ or reasons for improving your health) that will offer long-term inspiration. Photo Credit: Shutterstock Click Here to See Healthy Habits That Can Lead to Big Life Changes
“Our bodies were meant to move,” said Dr. Pete Sulack, a leading stress expert and founder of Unhealthy Anonymous. “Every hour that you sit at work, get up and move for two minutes — walk, dance, stretch, take the stairs. We don’t need to exercise more necessarily, we just need to sit less. Photo Credit: Shutterstock
“Try to be in bed at 10 p.m.,” Sulack said. “That’s when melatonin levels peak. Because of this, every hour of sleep you get before midnight is actually worth three hours of sleep after midnight.” And not only should you aim to reap the benefits of getting to bed earlier, but getting an adequate amount of shuteye each night is also essential to your health. “Sleep deprivation can impact your immune system, your cognitive abilities and your endocrine system,” said Angela Martindale, a celebrity lifestyle coach, fitness trainer and nutritionist. “Lack of proper sleep can also cause weight gain or weight loss and can lead to depression. Try to put yourself on a regular bedtime schedule to ensure you get seven to nine hours of sleep at night.” Photo Credit: Shutterstock Click Here to See Healthy Habits That Can Lead to Big Life Changes
For some, squeezing in even just a few extra minutes for breakfast in the morning might not seem simple at all, but making the effort to include it as a part of your prep for the day can certainly lead to lots of positive changes. “Most science points to the fact that breakfast-eaters tend to have generally healthier eating habits overall,” said Josh Anderson, an AFAA certified personal fitness trainer and the CEO of Always Active Athletics. For example, one study found eating a high-protein breakfast led women to eat less throughout the rest of the morning, and there’s a large body of research that supports the same notion for both men and women. “So, if you often skip breakfast and are struggling to maintain a balanced diet, try making a habit of eating a nutritious meal every morning,” Anderson said. Photo Credit: Shutterstock
In addition to practicing relaxation techniques to effectively manage your stress, something as simple as a mental health screening can help protect against depression and other mental health disorders. Screening for Mental Health, the nonprofit that founded National Depression Screening Day (which takes place annually on October 8) encourages everyone to be proactive about their mental health by making a habit of checking in on their mind. Click Here to See Healthy Habits That Can Lead to Big Life Changes Photo Credit: Shutterstock
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