If you’re a walker, or if you do any kind of exercise, you probably know the importance of keeping your knees healthy. Preventing knee injuries and keeping your knees fresh is key to achieving any walking or step goal. Your knees act as shock absorbers as you walk, and heavy shock on the knees over long periods of time can lead to injuries. As you age, your knees become even more of a concern as it can be easier to suffer injuries and the injuries that do occur are harder to recover from. Strengthening your legs, keeping your joints flexible and reducing the impact of your walks are all great ways to protect your knees from damage.
Knee joints consist of bone, cartilage, ligaments, and tendons. As we age, our cartilage can deteriorate which can cause pain when the bones rub against each other. Keeping your joints mobile ensures that cartilage gets the joint fluid it needs to function properly. It may even help your knees stay healthy longer.
These tips will help you keep your knees strong, reduce impact on your joints, and deal with minor knee pain if it does happen.
Types of knee injuries
There are two main categories of knee injuries that can affect walkers: acute (sudden injuries, like sprains) and chronic (long-term injuries/pain including tendonitis, bursitis, or arthritis). A flexibility and strengthening program can help prevent injuries by keeping your knees mobile and strong.
Ways to improve knee health
Stretching the muscles around your knees can help improve knee flexibility. Flexibility declines with age, so the earlier you start stretching, the better. Focus on your hip and thigh muscles, including your glutes, the hip adductors (groin muscles), and the knee flexors and extensors. Many experts now believe that people should warm up before stretching, as stretching your muscles completely cold can cause injuries. If you’ve ever suddenly popped out of bed or out of a chair and tweaked your back, for instance, you know how going from rest to sudden movement can increase your risk of injury. Try walking around your house, or do some light exercise before performing stretches. There are many resources available online that give stretching routines for walking or jogging.
Stretch before and after walking. Stretching before helps to prevent injury and stretching after helps you cool down. If you’ve suffered an injury in the past, or if you feel discomfort in certain areas, then make sure to stretch those. If the injury was serious, check with your doctor on which stretches are safe and effective for that area.
Working on your flexibility during rest days is a great way to keep your joints healthy and be productive when you’re not walking as much. A gentle yoga routine or light stretching are great ways to build flexibility. Don’t just stretch your knees, as flexibility in your hips and other joints can help you walk with a smoother motion, which can relive pressure on your knees.
Avoid extreme stretches, such as bringing your heel all the way back to your glutes. “By bending the knee all the way, the kneecap gets jammed into the bones below it,” says Dr. Robert Gotlin of Beth Israel Medical Center. Never stretch to the point that you’re experiencing pain – this can lead to serious injuries.
Remember that everyone’s body is different. Some people are naturally flexible or may have practiced stretching or yoga for a long time. Trying to imitate someone who can stretch farther than you is a recipe for getting injured. Stretching should be your own journey, so go at your own pace! There’s a common myth (possibly from movies and TV shows) that by forcing extreme stretches, you can get extremely flexible in a short amount of time. In reality, getting flexible is a process that happens over time. You may never get as flexible as a professional dancer or yoga teacher, but if you work at it every day you’ll get much more flexible than you are right now.
Strengthening the muscles surrounding the knee is also critical to injury prevention. To strengthen muscles, use weight machines or another form of resistance such as tubing. You don’t have to lift a lot of weight to get results. Doing exercises correctly (form) is more important than the amount of weight you can lift or the number of repetitions that you can do. If you haven’t tried an exercise before, try to find a professional that can show you how to do the exercise and observe your form.
Good areas to focus on include hip flexors including the extensors, flexors, and abductors, as well as the knee joints, extensors and flexors. Also recommended are exercises for the lower-leg muscles including the ankle. Having stronger and more stable hips and ankles can help prevent stress on your knee.
If you don’t have access to weight machines, you can also do squats or lunges. Yoga is great for building strength as well as flexibility, making it a great choice for off days. Just be sure to maintain proper form. Avoid locking your knees. Trying yoga is a great way to improve flexibility and strength. There are many free yoga resources including free videos on YouTube where you can pick up some basics.
More tips to keep knees healthy
Other helpful tips to keep your knees healthy include:
- Avoid overtraining. Start slowly and rest if you experience discomfort. Don’t exercise through pain.
- Watch out for pain in other areas as well. If you’re suffering ankle, hip or back pain then you may be forced to adjust your walk, which can put extra stress on your knees.
- Be sure to use proper form. Replace your shoes every 300 miles to be sure they provide the proper shock absorption.
- Use your Pacer Pedometer app to track your mileage and then connect that mileage with your specific shoes. This can help you tell exactly when it is time for a new pair of shoes.
- Try using walking or hiking poles to reduce the impact on your knees.
- If you wrap your knees, don’t wrap them too tightly. This can actually cause injuries instead of preventing them.
Most importantly, rest and recover
If you’re getting knee pain, rest up. As great as it is to hit your step goal, doing it at the expense of your knees will set you up for a serious injury. If you’re experiencing pain and discomfort, rest up and see a doctor if it persists! Your steps will be there when you’re healed up!
If you have questions, check with your doctor or a certified trainer. Injury prevention is much easier (and less painful) than recovering from an injury.
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