Friday, March 14, 2008
Minding your knees as you age
By Val Willingham
When I was young, I used to run. I ran my first 10K at Miami-Dade Community College in South Miami, almost 25 years ago. And I still remember every step, every breath. It was exhilarating. But when I came to the finish line, it was also painful. I continued to run for about three years until my joints couldn't take it anymore. Maybe I wasn't training very well. Maybe I wasn't cut out for running, but I knew if I continued, I would eventually injure myself permanently. So I hung up my shoes.
But there are people out there who will always run the course. Take my friend, Patrick Avon. He is a man obsessed. The guy never stops. Even now, he's in constant motion. As head of his own "boot camp" fitness program, Avon practices what he preaches. A marathon runner and a triathlete, he works out daily to keep his body in shape. He says it keeps him young and he wants to use his body as if he were 15 years old again.
The problem is he's not 15 any more and after years of running, 45-year-old Avon had knee surgery. Five months later, he ran the Marine Corps Marathon. He says he just heals well and "recovered wicked fast."
But Avon was lucky. He got back on track. That's not the case for all of us. As we age, many parts of our body start to suffer from wear and tear, especially our knees. According to Dr. Wiemi Douoguih, a sports medicine specialist and orthopedic surgeon at Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C., we unintentionally abuse our knees. "Whether it's running, jumping, changing direction, the whole upper body is all supported by the knee and ankle," he says. (Watch Video)
According to the American Academy of orthopedic surgeons, past traumas such as sprains and falls, can cause wearing away of the knee cartilage lining. Injuries to the ligaments and the tendons can lead to osteoarthritis, which needs to be corrected with surgery.
To keep your knees in top shape, doctors suggest you modify your exercise; watch how you use your body and avoid doing the same thing over and over. Repetition can be stressful to the knees. Think about other ways to remain active and change your program. According to Douoguih, this is this commonly known as cross training. "It's a very effective way of avoiding injury," he says. "It's important not to overdo anything."
As you get older, arthritis can become an issue, especially if the knees have taken a beating in your younger years. You could end up with knee replacement surgery. More than 300,000 operations are performed on knees each year, but doctors shy away from replacements until patients get older. They say the longer a patient can wait to put in a knee replacement the better it is because the components they put in the knee wear out. Ideally doctors would like to insert an implant that will outlast the patient!
Physicians suggest that as you get older look for lower impact activity; yoga, swimming, even cycling puts less stress on the knees. Even light weight lifting can help with older joints. And if you're in pain, don't ignore it. Douoguih warns that you should listen to your body. "If it starts to hurt, back off."
As for my friend, Patrick? There's no stopping him. He says he'll continue his daily routine in order to keep on the road. And even though he may face a few setbacks, he hopes he'll be running for years to come. As I said, he's a man obsessed.
Do you have problems with your knees? How do you take care of them? We'd like to hear about it.
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