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Why You Must Protect Your Knees


WebMD Feature from "Redbook" Magazine

By Jeannette Moninger

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Women are the weaker-kneed sex - really! Ease the pain with these tips.

Years of stooping, kneeling, and running around really takes a toll on your knees, and women have it especially bad: Studies show we're up to six times more likely than men to suffer from knee injuries like ACL tears. Got an achy, creaky, or weak knee? We'll help you find the cause — plus, we've got ways to fix your bad knees for good.

Creaky knees

Your knees pop, grind, and ache while climbing stairs or after prolonged sitting.

  • The cause: Though it's commonly called "runner's knee," patellofemoral syndrome afflicts even couch potatoes. The creaking you feel is a result of a misaligned kneecap grating over the lower end of your thighbone. Women are particularly susceptible to this syndrome because our naturally wide pelvises cause our thighs to slant inward, creating a wider quadriceps, or Q, angle than men have. "This Q angle places extra force on a woman's knees," says Kathy Weber, M.D., director of women's sports medicine at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
  • The fix: If you regularly do high-impact workouts such as running or playing tennis, cut back (but don't stop altogether or the muscles that support your knees will weaken) and add gentler activities such as swimming and yoga to your routine. Also, buy new workout shoes when your shoes' soles are worn so that your arches and joints are adequately cushioned.

 

Achy knees

During physical activity, you feel a sharp pain between your kneecap and shinbone. The pain persists as a constant, dull ache.

  • The cause: tendonitis, which occurs when the tendons connecting your kneecap to the shinbone become inflamed due to repeated stress and overuse. Symptoms flare up when you increase the frequency or intensity of your workouts.
  • The fix: To ease pain and reduce swelling, take a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) like ibuprofen, and ice, rest, and elevate your throbbing knee, especially following a workout. Also, ask your doctor about patellar tendon straps, Velcro bands placed just under your kneecap, which relieve pain by taking pressure off the tendon. If the pain persists or worsens, see your doctor.

 

Stiff knees

Your knee is swollen and puffy, and you have trouble straightening or bending it.

  • The cause: osteoarthritis. The cartilage that cushions your joints breaks down due to use, age, or excess weight, and makes your body produce more joint fluid in the knee. When the cartilage wears down completely, you're left with bone rubbing on bone and painfully swollen joints, says Tamara Martin, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
  • The fix: Losing just 11 pounds can take pressure off your knees and reduce arthritis pain by 50 percent, according to one study. In addition, taking NSAIDs, resting, and using ice can alleviate pain and swelling. If your knee becomes red or feels warm to the touch, see your doctor, who may drain the excess joint fluid with a needle. About 25 percent of people with osteoarthritis need knee-replacement surgery.

 

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