Knee health is often overlooked until a problem arises, but taking proactive steps to maintain strong and flexible knees can prevent pain and discomfort in the long run. Physical therapy is a valuable tool in this regard, offering a structured approach to knee care. If you’re in your 50s and 60s, you may be at risk for arthritis. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prevent and treat osteoarthritis. Here are five physical therapy tips for maintaining your knees:
1. Exercise your hips and core muscles.
This helps prevent back pain caused by weak core muscles. It also improves balance, which will help prevent falls and injuries such as sprains and fractures.
- Situps: Start by lying on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Place your hands behind your head, palms down, and lift your back off the floor. Hold for a few seconds and then lower back down.
- Crunches: Lie face down on the floor with your knees bent, feet flat, and hands behind your head. Lift through your legs and torso, keeping your abs contracted as you do so. Lower yourself back down to start.
- Leg raises: Lie face down on the floor with your legs extended straight out in front of you and toes pointed toward the ceiling (or if this hurts, do it). Slowly lift one leg at a time off the ground about 2 inches off the ground so that it’s perpendicular to the floor (don’t force it). Hold for 30 seconds before lowering both legs back to the start position.
If you have low back or chronic lower back pain, consult your doctor before doing any exercise targeting your lower back.
2. Strengthen your hands and wrists with hand exercises
Hand exercises can be done any time you have the opportunity, but they’re especially beneficial to perform after a long day or during the morning hours before you begin your day.
If you have wrist pain, hand exercise may be a good option. Hand exercises can strengthen tendons, ligaments, bones, and muscles around the wrist joint, so they don’t wear out as quickly or cause pain when you bend or overextend them.
In addition to strengthening these muscles, hand exercises improve your grip and control over objects. You’ll be able to hold onto things without worrying about crushing your fingers like you might with traditional wrist braces.
This is one of the easiest ways to start strengthening your wrist. Place both palms flat on your desk or table and gently push them up until they touch the surface below them (you might need assistance from someone else). Hold this position for a few seconds before lowering them back down slowly.
3. Improve flexibility with stretching exercises
Stretching exercises are a great way to improve flexibility and decrease pain. When you’re feeling tight, it’s essential to stretch the muscles that are causing the problem. Stretching can help loosen up tight muscles and increase blood flow, relieving pain and making you feel better.
There are various types of stretching exercises you can do to improve your flexibility, including:
- Joint-by-joint stretches. These target specific areas of tightness in your body by stretching one muscle at a time. For example, if you have pain in your lower back, try doing a back stretch that targets just that area. You could also do joint-by-joint stretches after working out so that they will be part of your warm-up routine.
- Dynamic stretches. These movements involve moving from one position to another quickly with either small or large movements, for example, jumping up and down for several seconds and holding the position for a few seconds before repeating the exercise. Dynamic stretches usually work best when combined with a static hold at the end of each rep (for example, standing on one leg), which helps increase blood flow through the stretched area.
Flexibility is often measured by how far a muscle can move without causing pain or discomfort to the stretched joint. The more flexible a joint is, the less stress is placed on it and the less chance of injury occurring.
4. Use weight-bearing exercise
Weight-bearing exercises such as walking or stair climbing can help build up cartilage in your knees. Weight-bearing exercises are a great way to strengthen your muscles and maintain strong bones. However, they may not be enough to protect your knees from damage. When you’re older and have osteoarthritis, weight-bearing exercise may help build up cartilage in your knees and improve flexibility.
When you have osteoarthritis, the cartilage in your knees becomes inflamed. The inflammation causes pain when you move your knee or walk. In addition, it can make it difficult for you to bend and straighten your knee without feeling pain.
Weight-bearing exercises help build new cartilage by strengthening muscles around the knee joint. The powers that attach to the kneecap (patella) pull on the kneecap during walking or running. This helps move it toward the middle of your leg to participate in motion with the rest of your leg bones (tibia and fibula).
Stair climbing is another type of weight-bearing exercise that strengthens both muscle groups. Stair climbing requires lifting one foot after another, similar to using one leg while carrying groceries upstairs at home.
5. Keep up with regular visits to your doctor
Your doctor may want to check your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and hearing and dental health. They’ll also want to ensure you’re getting regular visits for regular checkups, even if the problem is minor.
“The more often you get in, the less likely it is that something will catch up with you,” says Dr. Robert Dworkin, director of the Center for Primary Care at the University of Chicago Medicine. “It’s like exercising.”
Talk about what’s normal for your age, sex, and health history. Ensure your doctor knows what medications you’re taking and if any have changed recently. If you have a chronic condition, tell them how it’s been treated, whether it worked or not. You may need a different treatment plan now than before.
So, if you’re in your 50s and 60s and want to get a head start protecting against osteoarthritis, consider the physical therapy tips above. Will you be able to prevent osteoarthritis? Maybe not, but you can help ease the symptoms and slow the progress of arthritis by keeping active and following a healthy diet. If you feel pain in your knees, see your doctor right away. You can still do many things you love well into old age with proper treatment.
Hopefully, you’re pleased with how physical therapy can prevent and treat knee arthritis. These tips will help you have a long, pain-free life, maintaining your mobility for years.