Your knee is the largest joint in your body and has to be strong and flexible so you can stand, sit and participate in the twisting and turning involved with sports. Both sudden injuries and long-term stress from overuse and aging can lead to a degeneration of knee cartilage, making everyday activities difficult. A degenerative knee condition may also make it harder to exercise, but exercise may be one way to prevent and treat its symptoms.
Cartilage is flexible connective tissue that surrounds bones and joints such as your knees. Over time, it can eventually wear away and leave the raw bone underneath exposed, causing pain, swelling and stiffness. The most common cause of cartilage deterioration is arthritis, although young adults can also experience degeneration in cartilage, called chondromalacia patellae or “runner’s knee,” from an acute injury or chronic friction between the knee joint and cartilage.
Regular exercise helps keep the muscles and tendons around your knee strong and also replenishes lubrication to the cartilage, which helps decrease pain and stiffness. A study published in 2007 in the journal “Menopause” found that women with no knee osteoarthritis, who exercised for at least 20 minutes at a level that caused an increase in breathing and pulse rates, had greater medial tibial cartilage volume with no negative effects on the knee.
The Arthritis Foundation recommends that if you’re new to an exercise program, you should start slowly with stretching exercises that will improve your range of motion. You can then move on to endurance exercise such as walking, using an elliptical machine or bicycling. If your knee condition causes you a great deal of pain while exercising, water exercise may be helpful, because the buoyancy reduces stress on hips, knees and spine, at the same time building strength and increasing your knee’s range of motion.
Being overweight increases the stress on your spine and lower body. Even if you’re only 10 pounds overweight, it will increase the force on the knee by 30 to 60 pounds with each step, according to the Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center. Overweight and obese women have four times the risk of knee osteoarthritis, and for overweight men, the risk is five times greater. Consult your doctor prior to starting exercise with a degenerative knee condition, and you may also need to work with a physical therapist to design a program right for you.
- University of Washington Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine: Osteoarthritis of the Knee
- Science Daily: Runner's Knee
- Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center: Osteoarthritis Weight Management
- American Journal of Sports Medicine: Athletics and Osteoarthritis
- International Society for Arthroscopy, Knee Surgery & Orthopaedic Sports Medicine: A Degenerative Knee: How to Keep Them Physically Active
- Liquidlibrary/liquidlibrary/Getty Images
This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.