Support your joints so that your joints can support you

IF YOU suffer from knee trouble, it’s worth looking at some common things you may or may not be doing to aggravate this complicated and hugely useful joint. We test our knees every day, whether that is simply through sitting in the same position for many hours, standing, possibly without a whole lot of thought to alignment and posture, how we walk, run, carry and so on.

Keeping your joints mobile means using the muscles, ligaments, and tendons around them to ensure they are well supported. This doesn’t have to be with strenuous exercise. In fact, if you rely too much on strenuous workouts, overdeveloping one muscle group to the detriment of others, you can find you are more prone to develop strains, as one group has to overcompensate for another.

Stretching is a safer option for people of all ages and mobility, as you can keep it within your own ability. Yoga, water-based exercises and tai chi all work within a safe range and can be adapted to suit your ability and function. Just a few simple stretches can help increase blood flow to the area, which in turn brings healing.

Know when to rest too. It sounds obvious, but if something feels uncomfortably painful, don’t do it. It’s one thing to ‘push through the pain barrier’, but if a pain crops up out of nowhere when you perform a particular movement, it’s probably your body’s way of saying it doesn’t like it very much! Your posture can influence this to a great degree too.

Consider options like Feldenkrais, Alexander Technique and, as I mentioned, tai chi and yoga, where posture and good alignment are key parts of performing the techniques well.

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You might think that being stooped at a computer all day has nothing to do with your knees. But quite possibly, your core muscles haven’t been engaged, your shoulders have been slumped forward and your legs may be crossed at the knees, so they haven’t had a chance to work through their full range of motion.

Can you straighten your legs from time to time, point your toes and raise your toes to the ceiling and even rub your knees to gently wake them up? Think about your sitting down posture. It does nothing for your hip flexors either, which can become tight and shortened, so see if you can do some simple stretches to help those too. No body part functions separately from the rest, so if you can work on one imbalance, it will certainly help the others.

Another external factor you may want to consider is your footwear. If you are wearing shoes that are not very supportive like slip-on shoes, flip-flops, soft boots or even high heels, the structure of your foot is having to compromise in various ways. Choose your shoes well to enhance rather than hinder your posture and, when you can at home, go barefoot from time to time to let your feet walk as nature intended.

How about your weight? If you are carrying a lot of extra pounds, that puts quite a force down through your knees, with each extra pound you’re carrying equating to multiple pounds to your knees when you walk and even more when you run. That can be compounded by bad posture. You may find your knee joints don’t track properly as a result, with wearing being the ultimate outcome.

The other issue with weight, which can’t be underestimated, is that fat cells spur on the process which triggers inflammation. So surplus weight will aggravate any tendency toward joint pain, redness and swelling. Make sure you’re getting enough anti-inflammatory fats on board in the form of Omega 3, from seeds and oily fish.

Traditionally, we would have had a ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 of as low as 1:1. Nowadays, for some people 1:24 is quite normal! Given that Omega 6 oils, from cheap cooking oils and processed fats, are so linked to inflammation, you’d do well to avoid these, if knee pain is an issue for you.

Snack on walnuts, add linseeds to your muesli, have small oily fish for lunch and dinner. All of these will help to generate much needed synovial fluids, which keep the joint surfaces from wearing against each other. If you’re thirsty, drink filtered water or better again, if you can drink dandelion or yarrow tea from time to time as these help cleanse the liver, so that it processes toxins more efficiently.

A simple ice pack or heat pack can be a great comfort too, to give temporary relief, just avoid putting something hot on an already hot joint, or something cold on an already cold joint. It sounds obvious, but this can simply aggravate the joint even more.

Take care of your knees so that they will be of service to you for many years to come.