Friday, March 14, 2008
Minding your knees as you age
By Val Willingham
Medical Producer

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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Listen to your body; listen to your knees. If I feel a tingling sensation in my knees, I know that I am pushing them too hard. Give them a few days rest. I have done this for many years and so far I have been able to avoid surgery.
Years ago, my doctor warned me to "get off my feet". I did. My work and career changed drastically and now I intentionally exercise to strengthen the muscles that support my knees. So far, I've been able to avoid surgery. Consult your doctor - whether or not you have issues with your knees - and get started taking good care of the supporting muscles NOW. You may be able to avoid the problems I've had and you may be able to continue the work you enjoy.
I find it more difficult going up and down stairs since my knees stiffen up. I do exercises while on my back bending my knees in the air, but I hear noises coming from them that do not sound good. Will these exercises help or hurt if I continue to do them in the long run? What exercises for my knees would you suggest?
After tearing ligaments in both knees as a teenager, I am in my late thirties and forced to use Glucosamine and Chondroitin every day. It helps with the pain and stiffness. I can't doing anything strenuous, jumping down from even the slightest height will cause my knees to buckle. I can't kneel in church because everyone in the pew hears the snap, crackle, pop as I stand.
I ran 6 miles a day for nearly 30 years...unfortunately, at 57 it has taken a toll. Glucosamine and Chondroitin helps the pain, but running is in the past. Rowing(machine) is a healthy alternative,less impact and uses virtually all of the body muscles. Swimming is also a great alternative. Unfortunatey many of us do not have the genetics to run forever. I also do tai chi, a passive relaxation exercise. As mentioned, yoga is also great.Keep moving, keep a positive attitude!!
I had problem with my knees since 2000. Initially the pain was very mild was able to handle but gradually it started bothering me , my kees started become more and more stiff. I visited doctors but no help. One thing i realised that i used to walk , jog a lot. I amost stopped doing walking and jogging instead of that i started doing yoga. Especially stiing in squat position that helps me a lot. I also have changed my eating habits. I take hardly half spoon of sugar a day.
I am 26 yr old and i suffer with alot of knee pain. I ran alot being in the army.. never fell or anything on my knees.After 6 months i started having all those knee pain. I sit at work and my knees swell up. No doctor can find whats wrong with me. Its frustrating and annoying because sometimes i cannot get out of bed, drive properly or even walk well since my knee is so swollen. I am getting tired of going to the doctor ever so often.
Hi Dr. Gupta.

Watching Planet in Peril...very interesting.

What do you plan to do about our problem.

1 in 20 could die of a blood clot and are NOT being told that they could have factor five leidon?

Sun City, Ca
Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends -- info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.
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