6 Ways to Ruin Your Knees
Expert tips on how to avoid damaging your knees.
Whether you're a seasoned athlete, a weekend warrior, or totally laid-back when it comes to exercise, knowing how to protect your knees from damage can mean the difference between a fulfilling lifestyle and longterm, strained mobility.
Cruising on the track in the heat of a roller derby match, 27-year-old Rachel Piplica was not at all prepared for the realization that her knee could sideline her from competitive skating for months, possibly years.
"Suddenly, I heard a pop and it felt like my knee bent sideways. The pain was so bad I just fell and crawled away," Piplica tells WebMD.
The Los Angeles fashion designer who skates under the name Iron Maiven tried to keep going. "I took one more stride and my knee just let go again. The doctor immediately said, 'I think you tore your ACL.'"
Piplica had experienced some warning signs during her previous season of skating as captain of her team, but she ignored them for the most part. "I had tremendous pain in my leg anytime I'd squat down so I just kept my right leg straight. But I never saw a doctor for it. I just assumed, 'I'm in a contact sport and this is what happens,'” she tells WebMD.
Knee deep: A complex and vulnerable joint
Her torn ACL diagnosis confirmed, Piplica quickly learned how susceptible the knees can be to injury. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, these joints are responsible for sending nearly 15 million Americans to the doctor every year.
And it's not just athletes who suffer. Knee problems can happen to anyone.
"Because they're the main hinge between the ground and the rest of your body, the knees serve as your 'wheels' that get you around and allow you to be active,” says University of Pennsylvania orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist Nicholas DiNubile, MD. "Life can really go downhill when you damage your knees,” says DiNubile, who is a spokesman for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and author of FrameWork - Your 7-Step Program for Healthy Muscles, Bones and Joints.
Bound by an intricate system of ligaments, tendons, cartilage, and muscle, the knee is highly prone to injury. It's a complex hinge where the femur (thigh bone), tibia (shin bone), fibula (next to tibia) and kneecap all come together.
"It's hard to find the right balance between mobility and stability; the knee needs to move back and forth, twist a little, and pivot too,” DiNubile says. The knee's ligaments can tear, its tendons can swell up, osteoarthritis can take hold, and even everyday wear and tear can ruin a perfectly good set of knees.
Here are six pitfalls you can avoid to save your knees.
1. Ignoring knee pain.
An occasional ache here and there is common. "But knowing when you can and can't ignore pain is key,” says sports medicine specialist Jordan Metzl, MD, from the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.