5 Ways You’re Making Your Knee Pain Worse

How to fix common causes of pain
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By: Scott Burg, DO

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I know how much knee pain slows down your life. I say that not only as a doctor who treats knee issues daily, but also as someone who’s had his fair share of knee injuries, rehab and lingering pain.

I’ve written before about how important it is to get the right diagnosis. But it’s also important to change your habits, whether you’re dealing with minor, nagging pain or recovering from something more serious.

Ask yourself, “Am I making my pain worse?” If the answer is, “Yes,” act accordingly.

1. You’re pounding the pavement

If you logged 5-mile runs before being diagnosed with osteoarthritis or another cause of knee pain, you might need to adjust your fitness habits.

The impact of running, especially on hard surfaces, stresses the knees. Whether you can keep it up depends on your level of damage and pain, but you might consider alternative exercises. If it’s too hard to give up your favorite form of exercise, at least try running on a more forgiving surface, such as softer trails or tracks instead of cement or pavement.

2. You’re taking it too easy

Rest is a critical part of recovering from a knee injury. But if your doctor clears you for exercise, don’t be a couch potato.

Try low-impact exercises that are easy on the knees. For example, swimming or cycling can help you maintain your overall fitness and the range of motion in your knees.

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Slower-paced activities such as tai-chi or yoga help increase flexibility. That’s really important for inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, where stiffness improves with activity. As a bonus, exercise releases endorphins that can help lower your pain levels.

A physical therapist can help you start a strengthening program to build and maintain the muscles that support your knees, too. Proper form matters. You don’t want to make an injury worse with the wrong activities or bad form.

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3. You’re carrying too much weight

If you’re overweight, there are plenty of reasons to lose weight. Knee pain is a big one.

Every pound counts. Being overweight is a risk factor for developing osteoarthritis and other conditions; your knees bear your weight every time you take a step. Fortunately, losing weight also can slow the progression of arthritis once you have it.

The concept is simple: Less weight on your joints equals less damage and less pain. It’s one more reason not to stay stagnant.

4. You’re wearing the wrong gear

Are you wearing flip-flops to walk around the neighborhood? If you have knee pain, that’s not a good idea. You need shoes with the proper support, such as a good pair of athletic shoes if you are walking for exercise.

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The same goes for knee braces. Relying on a flimsy drugstore brace is like putting a bandage on a major wound.

If you have significant, recurring pain, ask a doctor if it’s worth getting fitted for a load-bearing brace. These specialized braces are more expensive than the store-bought variety, but they also work much better when needed. Typically, a trained orthotist — often a physical therapist — will fit them to your knee and your needs specifically.

5. You haven’t adapted your environment

For people who can’t be quite as active or who have especially severe pain, a few simple steps at home can go a long way toward relieving the causes of pain.

Adaptive tools help. Toilet-seat heighteners and bed rails make it easier to get up and down without straining. A cane fitted to your body will allow you to stay mobile while taking the strain off your knees.

No one tip will apply to everyone, since knee pain varies by severity and cause. But the basic idea is universal: To ease your pain, do as much as you can to avoid or reduce what’s causing it in the first place.

More information
Guide to treatment for knee pain

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