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6 Ways to Ruin Your Knees

Expert tips on how to avoid damaging your knees.

1. Ignoring knee pain. continued...

Metzl's rule of thumb: When the pain limits your ability to do what you normally do, you need to have it checked out. 

"If your body is sending you signals, you need to listen to them.  If they persist, you need to have it checked out,” he tells WebMD. 

For Piplica, exploratory surgery revealed a torn meniscus she had endured in the past -- unbeknownst to her -- followed by the more recent ACL tear. 

"In hindsight, maybe that first injury could have been repaired earlier, although I don't know if I could have avoided this one altogether,” she says.  "At least I would have been more careful."

2. Being overweight.

Every pound of body weight yields five pounds of force on the knee, so even 10 extra pounds can put a considerable load on those joints.

Being overweight also increases your chances of osteoarthritis in the knee, a common and often disabling form of arthritis that wears away the knee's cushiony cartilage.   Excess pounds also cause existing arthritis to worsen more rapidly.  According to the CDC, two out of three obese adults suffer from knee osteoarthritis at some time in their life.

Although diet and exercise are critical for weight loss, it's a double-edged sword. 

"If your knees hurt, it's harder to lose weight through exercise,” says Metzl.  So he recommends activities that go easy on the knee. 

For example, opt for a stationary bike over running on the treadmill, and walk on a flat surface instead of hilly turf.  If you're a die-hard treadmill fan, then go for longer sessions of walking punched with brief intervals of brisk walking or running every three to five minutes, DiNubile says. 

3. Not following through with rehab and rest.

The rest and rehabilitation period after a knee injury is critical to avoiding future pain or reinjury.  Depending on the type of damage and treatment, recovery could last anywhere from a couple of weeks to several months. 

"During the rehab period, you need someone to help you tell the difference between something that just hurts, and something that's going to do you harm,” says DiNubile. 

He tells WebMD that many of his young athlete patients are too eager to return to regular play as soon as they stop limping.  He advises patients to work with an orthopedic surgeon, a sports medicine physician, a physical therapist, an athletic trainer, or some combination of these pros, in order to ensure proper focus is placed on gradually strengthening the knees.

4. Neglecting your ACL.

One of the most commonly injured ligaments in the knee, the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is responsible for about 150,000 injuries in the U.S. every year. 

As Piplica learned firsthand, sports like roller derby that involve quick cuts, twists, and jumping, put the ACL at higher risk for rupturing.  More traditional high-risk sports include soccer, basketball, football, and volleyball.

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