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Protect your knees: 10 tips from an orthopedist

Our knees take a knocking, but the good news is, most knee pain is avoidable. Taking better care of your knees throughout your life, starting as early as your 30s, can strengthen your joints and, potentially, save you years of pain and discomfort later in life. Here are some of my top recommendations to keep knees healthy.

  1. Move. Your joints thrive on movement—the continuous movement of an active lifestyle keeps your joints well lubricated. It also helps to build leg muscle that can support your knees and decrease pain. Consider low impact activities such as bicycling, swimming and walking as a foundation to exercise. Avoid activities that put too much strain on your knees, such as downhill running and excessive deep knee bends.
  2. Lose weight. It shouldn’t be surprising to hear that carrying extra weight puts stress on your joints, particularly those in the lower half of your body. One study found that a one pound weight loss resulted in a four pound reduction of pressure and stress on the knee joint. Shedding excess weight can improve symptoms and sometimes they even disappear.
  3. Hydrate. One symptom of dehydration can be joint pain. In fact, cartilage (the flexible tissue that makes up your joints) consists of up to 80 percent water. Drinking the recommended two-to-three liters of fluid a day helps provide nourishment and reduces mechanical stress to your knee cartilage. 
  4. Good eats. Proper nutrition through a diet full of vitamins and minerals plays an important role in bone health, particularly vitamins C, D and K and calcium.
  5. Try turmeric. One alternative to traditional anti-inflammatory medications is the spice turmeric. It acts by blocking or preventing inflammation. Several recent studies have indicated that turmeric may be more beneficial at reducing pain and swelling than is ibuprofen. Consult your medical provider before using turmeric or other alternative medications, to determine if they are safe for you.
  6. Rest. Sleep enables our bodies to repair and regenerate most of the damage from our often stress-filled lives. Do not overlook the importance of getting adequate, consistent sleep.
  7. Breathe. Reducing stress and "remembering to breathe" can actually improve your joint pain. The direct link between stress and joint pain is still unknown, however, some researchers hypothesize it can be related to the chemicals released with inflammation. Meditation can help improve mood, and reduce distress and pain scores. Meditation can be as simple as focusing your attention on your breathing.
  8. Balance. The key to a healthy set of knees or reducing symptoms will likely not be found with one overnight change, but rather implementing consistency with the changes you've made. Finding your balance of physical, dietary and mental changes will enhance your ability to see results and improve your chance to maintain those results for years to come.
  9. RICE. Rest, ice, compression and elevation can help reduce swelling and pain. Most joint pain does settle down and is not serious. The age-old mnemonic—RICE—is going to be the cure for most of your acquired aches and pains.
  10. Get help. Early diagnosis can be critical to prevent permanent damage. Don't ignore persistent, sharp, intermittent or localized pain. Swelling is another symptom you should never overlook. 

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