Knee pain is one of the most common orthopedic complaints, especially in adults over 50, but it’s also common among younger athletes. Dr. Jonathan Shults, our board-certified orthopedic surgeon with Coastal Empire Orthopedics, treats young and older patients with knee injuries and conditions. He uses conservative treatments whenever possible. Sometimes regenerative medicine helps avoid or postpone surgery.
The role of cartilage in your knee joints
Your knee joints are composed of bone and tissue, including cartilage, ligaments, tendons, and muscles. They’re the largest joints in your body.
Cartilage is a tough tissue that helps keep your bones from rubbing against each other. You have articular cartilage covering your kneecap bone, or patella, which connects your thigh bone (your femur) to your shin bone or tibia. It’s anywhere between 2 to 4 millimeters thick, so it’s pretty thin. It helps your joint flex easily as your knee bends and moves.
You have two more pieces of cartilage around the knee joint called the meniscus. They help cushion the joint, so your thigh bone doesn’t rub against your shin bone.
Your articular cartilage holds a substance called synovial fluid. When you move, some of the synovial fluid “oils” your joint and moves oxygen and other nutrients through the knee to keep the tissue healthy.
How cartilage becomes damaged
If you take 10,000 steps daily, you’re putting over a million pounds of pressure on your knees. Just like other body parts, your cartilage thins and develops wear and tear as you get older. You have less synovial fluid in your knee joints as well.
If you’ve played a high-impact sport that puts heavy pressure on your knees, like basketball or tennis, you risk more wear and tear on your cartilage. Also, if you suffer direct trauma to the knee, your cartilage sustains damage.
Once the cartilage is damaged, it’s hard to repair because it’s not vascularized; it contains no blood vessels. You may have some limited new cartilage growth, but it may not grow in a pattern that provides enough cushioning between your bones.
How to keep your cartilage healthy
Following are helpful tips on how to keep your cartilage from developing excess wear and tear.
Low-impact aerobic exercise
Being sedentary has been scientifically proven to be unhealthy. Exercise is important for a healthy body.
If you suspect you have cartilage damage, try developing habits that include low-impact aerobic exercise instead of high-impact workouts. Cycling, swimming, walking, hiking, using the elliptical machine, or tai chi are all excellent low-impact aerobic workouts that don’t place undue pressure on your knee joints. This type of exercise helps control inflammation that leads to joint pain.
If your muscles are weak, your joints are at risk of injury. Muscles help bear the pressure your body puts on your knee joint. Include exercises for muscle development in your core, hips, thighs, and legs.
Stretch every day and warm up before you exercise
Be sure to perform simple joint stretches every day. This helps ward off stiff joints and protects your cartilage.
Always warm up before you exercise. Without warming up, you could tear cartilage that has thinned.
Maintain a normal weight
Keeping a normal weight for your body type is one of the best things you can do to keep your knees healthy. If you weigh 200 pounds, you put 300 pounds of pressure on your knees with each step. When you’re overweight, the cartilage in your knees breaks down more quickly due to constant excess pressure.
Call Coastal Empire Orthopedics or book an appointment online today if you have knee or other musculoskeletal pain.