Colorado is full of older athletes who are active and regularly participate in sports, from skiing to hiking, biking and golfing and more. I love that older adults are maintaining an active, athletic lifestyle but it’s important to recognize that there are physical changes that take place as we age, including loss of muscle mass (resulting in decreased strength); lost of elasticity in our tendons and ligament (resulting in less flexibility and range of motion); and loss of cartilage (resulting in less cushioning in the joints). Knee injuries and chronic knee pain are common complaints among my patients. In light of this, here are some things you can do to prevent knee injuries, as well as what you can do if you suffer from chronic knee pain.
Take the time to warm up (and cool down)
The older we get, the less flexible our joints might be. That means the warm-up period is even more important at age 40 or 50 than it was when you were 20. If you’re going to embark on an activity that your body isn’t used to, say skiing at the beginning of the season, or setting out on your first 14er of the summer, than you really need to work into it slowly. Be sure you stretch and prepare your body for the activity instead of just jumping right in, which could cause an injury. Research has shown that cold muscles are more prone to injury, so it’s important to take the time to warm up. Do 5 to 10 minutes of light aerobic activity (think jumping jacks or running/walking in place) followed by a few minutes of stretching to warm up those muscles and prepare them for the more strenuous activity ahead. Likewise, after your activity, take the time to cool down with 5 to 10 minutes of gentle stretching.
Listen to your body
Pay close attention to your body while performing whatever activity you choose. If your knee or other joint begin to hurt, adjust your routine or cut it short that day. Pushing through the pain could result in an injury. If you start to feel symptoms of swelling, mechanical locking or if your knee gives out or feels unstable, it’s important to stop immediately. Rest your knee, ice it and take anti-inflammatory medicine, like ibuprofen, for a week or two. If the symptoms don’t resolve, that’s an indicator there’s something going on that needs to be evaluated by a doctor.
If the issue is chronic
Chronic knee pain is often due to simple overuse or a repetitive type of injury and can be addressed with rest, ice, elevation and physical therapy with a good therapist who can help you with stretching and strengthening exercises. If those don’t help, there might be other issues affecting the knee. Remember, the body functions as a unit and normally there is something going on in the joint above or below.
If the pain persists, you should likely see an orthopedic specialist. I always focus on conservative options with my patients first. I perform a simple evaluation and exam and take X-rays to see if there is arthritis forming. Depending on the issue, we’ll often try cortisone injections, anti-inflammatory medications and activity modifications. If those things don’t resolve the issue, we’ll do further imaging like an MRI and possibly discuss surgery only after all the more conservative modalities have been exhausted. The goal is to get you back to doing the activities you love.
Jared White, DO is a board-certified, sport medicine fellowship trained orthopedic surgeon who specializes in knee and shoulder surgery. Dr. White studied at the Rochester Institute of Technology before completing his Doctorate of Osteopathic Medicine, graduating with high honors from Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine. He completed his orthopedic surgery training at the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine where he was chief resident, clinical instructor in orthopedics and a scientific paper award winner by the American Osteopathic Academy of Orthopaedics. Upon completion of his orthopedic training, Dr. White pursued advanced training at the world-renowned Cincinnati Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Center and Noyes’ Knee Research and Education Foundation. There he served as a sports medicine and orthopedic surgical fellow and consultant for the Cincinnati Bengals football team and Cincinnati State University Athletic Teams. Dr. White currently practices at OrthoONE at North Suburban Medical Center in Thornton, Colo. Visit orthoonedenver.com to learn more.