Updated: Sep 2, 2019
You've only got one life to live, and with that life comes just one set of parts. Unless you're looking for metal and plastic replacements, you'd do well to take care of the knees you've got. As you know, arthritis is progressive, which means that once your knees start wearing out, the cartilage on them will tend to continue to wear. Like it or not, them's the breaks; however, there are things you can do to protect the cartilage you have. Here are seven easy things you can do today for your knees.
1. Replace your old tennis shoes.
Much like the shocks on a car, the rubber and foam in your tennis or athletic shoes wear out after a number of steps. A pair of running shoes is typically good for about 500 miles of running, give or take, but many of us push our old sneakers far past their prime.
If you're not sure how old your shoes are, take a look at the sole. If you've worn through the sole such that the tread is invisible, the shoe is past its prime and should be replaced. Odds are that you have a pair of shoes you're keeping around as "junk" shoes. When you have junk shoes, what are you most likely doing? Using them for the heaviest or most labor-intensive tasks, likely putting more stress on your knees at their most vulnerable. Do yourself a favor and toss them!
Some of my favorite kinds of shoes are the Asics Gel GT series of shoe which not only provides a generous amount of cushion but also some supination and pronation stability control!
2. Cut out the advil and aleve!
We've grown up with the household names of Advil and Aleve. We're inundated with commercials and tag lines like "all day strong, all day long." Who wouldn't take something so convenient and so apparently effective? The problem with products like Aleve and Advil, both of which are NSAIDS is that they may actually impede the ability of the body to maintain cartilage over time. This article from the American Journal of Medicine suggests that NSAIDS which function like Advil and Aleve may actually decrease cartilage volume over time.
Further, NSAIDS have been suggested to decrease the recovery response of the muscles after a workout and can even impair the healing of tendon. While not the pharmacologic boogeyman, I would suggest keeping NSAIDS like Aleve and Advil to no more than a week if possible, two maximum. A generally safer alternative is usually acetaminophen unless you have kidney or liver issues. Please consult your physician before adding or changing any medicine, over the counter of prescription.
3. Toss the Fast Food!
We all know vegetables are good for you, but OA sufferers might benefit from veggies more than most. Years of getting food from a clown out of a fast food window will do a number on your cholesterol and also contribute to inflammatory conditions. Foods like green tea, broccoli, garlic, and cold-water fish help preserve cartilage and are generally healthful foods as well!
Broccoli contains a compound called sulfurophane which has been linked to preservation of the cartilage matrix. The matrix is the business end of cartilage and contains the glycosaminoglycans, collagen, and water which forms the shock-absorptive surface!
Green tea contains epigallocatechin-3-gallate, a polyphenol compound which inhibits the destruction of cartilage by decreasing inflammation. Specifically, it blocks interleukin-1 beta, a primary cellular messenger which brings about inflammation locally. Also found in other kinds of tea, epigallocatechin-3-gallate is most abundant in green tea. Interestingly, this polyphenol has also been linked to slightly improved LDL, the target cholesterol compound in heart disease!.
Garlic and cold water fish are rich in diallyl disulphine and omega 3 fatty acids respectively. Not only are they tasty in their own right, but they have chondroprotective benefits as well for athletes and patients with arthritis!
4. Get Moving!
This entire website is dedicated to those of us who desire to exercise and get healthy despite arthritis pain and is designed to equip you with the information you need to make the most informed decisions regarding your arthritis! As my three part series (below) talks about in great detail, one of the best things you can do today for your arthritis pain is to get off the couch and out into the sunshine or into the gym or on the court! Your knees are a dynamic structure and to a certain degree will remodel to accommodate the requirements of your body. Give your body the physiologic signals it needs to change for the better!
5. Get regular, sufficient sleep
Studies have shown that, particularly for those with arthritis, that lack of sleep worsens perceptions of pain and can even manifest as depression. Requirements for sleep in adults all list at least seven hours nightly as the baseline for not getting behind on your quantity of restorative hours. Up to nine hours can be beneficial in those more physically and mentally active or those recovering from an acute illness or disease.
As we know, sleep becomes less efficacious and more fragmented as adult age grows toward older age. This makes sleep hygiene all the more important as we age. To come in the blog, I'll be doing a special series on sleep hygiene and some step by step practices you can implement to help get the most restful night's sleep possible!
6. Look Into a Brace
While many braces are available via a prescription or visit to a physician's office, some braces may offer comfort and support which are on the shelf or available online. Typically, those individuals whose knees tend to swell would benefit from a knee sleeve. Typically, these are neoprene or of similar construct and act to lend a small amount of compression to the knee joint itself, limiting swelling. They also tend to give the wearer a little more proprioception, the awareness of one's body in space.
Other kinds of knee braces tend to lend a little more stability to the knee and should include a hinge. The stabilization provided by the struts which attach to the hinge keep the knee from falling into a knock-kneed or bow-legged position (genu valgum or genu varum to name Latin names). These knock-kneed or bow-legged stances increase wear on one half of the knee joint in an accelerated manner. The idea behind the reinforced brace is that the force is more evenly distributed along the width of the knee. In the future, I'll be writing an entire series devoted to the kinds of braces in arthritis, what works and what doesn't.
7. Change Your Mindset
The old adage "Whether you think you can, or you think you can't, you're right" is especially true in regards to one's own health. Perception directly influences the reality of your body's health. In this article from the Stanford Business School, the direct discussion not only covers longevity and perception but also stress, diet, and obesity, all of which we've discussed correlate directly with arthritis and arthritis pain.
Through what has become a life-changing book for me personally, Mindset by Dr. Carol Dweck illustrates how you can modify your mindset and perception of things to work directly to your benefit. A little too new-age for you? Trust me when I say that as a hard-science aficionado, I've gleaned a tremendous amount of benefit from having read the book. In my opinion, mindset and perception are probably the biggest modifiable factor in how someone deals with life in general, and that includes your knees!