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    Why You Must Protect Your Knees

    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.

    Twisted knee

    You feel (and sometimes hear) a "pop," and then your knee buckles, causing excruciating pain. This injury usually occurs while playing sports.

    • The cause: The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), an elastic band of tissue that stabilizes the knee, tears. Once again, our Q angle comes into play. "A woman's kneecap pulls slightly to the side when she lands after a jump due to her wider pelvis," says Martin. As a result, the quadriceps pull harder on the knee. Experts also theorize that high levels of estrogen (in the latter part of the menstrual cycle) loosen ligaments and weaken their ability to protect joints.
    • The fix: See your doctor immediately. About a third of those who injure their ACL regain strength and motion after six to eight weeks of rest and physical therapy. If the kneecap remains unstable, arthroscopic surgery may be needed. If you play sports, doing exercises that strengthen your hip and butt muscles (to help stabilize knees) and practicing proper jumping and landing can decrease your risk of ACL injuries.

    Originally Published on September 18, 2007

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