Your knees are supposed to do only one thing: bend. But even with just that singular function, knees are among the most injured, most age-susceptible joints in your body.
And women have something extra working against their knees. While the narrower male pelvis allows the legs to follow a straight path from hip to knee to foot, the female pelvis creates a wider angle that puts extra strain on the inside and outside of the knee joint.
Alignment issues are seen much more frequently in the knees of women. Because of how the femur is angled inward, it increases the angle at which the kneecap is pulled.
Let’s take a look at how you can help make sure your knees stay strong and flexible throughout your life.
ABCs of knees
Your knees are sandwiched between the ground and your center of gravity. Whenever you take a step, your knee absorbs some of the force placed on your leg. That force can vary, depending on whether you’re walking or running and the amount of cushion in your footwear. Multiply that force by every step you’ve ever taken over the span of years, and some degree of knee deterioration is inevitable as you age.
The more extreme angle at which the femur joins the knee in females, combined with age and use, sets the stage for possible knee ailments in women older than 40. The most common is arthritis under the patella bone, which is the kneecap.
Over time, you might also see a higher incidence of prepatellar bursitis on the front of the knee, and pes anserine bursitis, which is an inflammation in the inner knee. As far as acute injuries for women, the most common is a meniscus tear or a ligament sprain.
The impact of exercise
Taking care of your knees is vital to both your mobility and your quality of life as you get older. The key to maintaining healthy knees is strengthening the muscles that support the knee, including the quadriceps, hamstring and calf. Stronger muscles help cushion your knee and promote better alignment of the bones in the joint.
But if you’ve never done leg-strengthening exercises before, don’t opt for weightlifting right away. Instead, focus on good form and repetitions. There are a ton of muscle-strengthening exercises you can do in your home. You can lay on the floor and do straight leg raises, or you can do wall squats, which allow you to brace your back against a wall for support. However, with squats, watch how deep you bend. It’s generally not a good idea to bend your legs past 90 degrees. For starters, stay closer to 45 degrees.
For cardio activities, opt for low-impact exercises that take stress off your lower joints.
Choose biking or swimming as opposed to running. Those activities allow you to strengthen your muscles without the wear and tear on your joints.
Body weight also plays an important role in knee health. The more you weigh, the more stress you put on all of your joints. As with all fitness regimens, of course, it’s important to pair exercise with a nutritious diet that allows you to maintain a healthy weight.
When to see a doctor
Knee pain or swelling that persists for weeks, or that becomes intense enough to interfere with your daily activities, means it’s probably time to schedule an appointment with your physician.
If it’s a sharp pain that comes on suddenly, or an annoying pain that persists for more than a few weeks, seek medical treatment. Any mechanical symptoms, such as catching, locking or giving out, should be looked at right away.
If you do end up needing medical treatment for a knee injury, there are many options available, say physicians. Most knee treatments can have you back on your feet the same day, and surgery is typically a last resort.
Treatment will always depend on the issue the patient has. There are anti-inflammatories that can be taken orally. There are steroid injections, viscous supplementation injections that can help to restore the lubrication between bones in the joint, and physical therapy options. That’s why it’s important to see your doctor if your problem doesn’t resolve. The sooner they see you, the sooner they can identify the problem and formulate a treatment plan.