As the world adjusts itself to life with or after Covid-19, discussions on ubiquitous problems like knee pain have resurfaced. This domain, including all issues related to the knee, has an immense gender difference and women have always suffered more than men. Science has established that they are more prone to knee injuries, and they are more prone to ageing of their knee or facing osteoarthritis. They are more sensitive and experience more pain than their male counterparts. Come let’s find out how to avoid knee problems.
In the first two decades of life, adolescent females have a propensity towards anterior knee pain (pain in and around the kneecap – in the front of the knee). This is mostly not due to any injury. Muscle imbalances in the thigh – calf regions and weaker core strength are contributory, but the inciting activities are generally excessive running, jogging, dancing or sports. Surgery is seldom needed and physiotherapy and activity modifications are the mainstays of treatment.
The above pain profile reappears in pregnant and breastfeeding women. This time prolonged cross-legged sitting on the floor, similar nursing positions and some yoga asanas seem to be inciting anterior knee pain. Rarely though, hormonal imbalances may lead to an increase in pain with swelling inside one of the knees, which may lead to more diffuse, generalised pain. This warrants investigations like magnetic resonance imaging and may need a minor key-hole surgery to solve persistent pain.
Active female athletes have a higher incidence of knee ligament injuries, especially in the pre-ovulatory phase of their menstrual cycle. An estrogen surge in this phase increases the risk of an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury almost about 2.5 times. In fact, adolescent female athletes are at a higher risk for re-injury as well. Such information is important in the context of sports injury prevention programs for kids and adults alike.
Perimenopausal knee pain is part of a bigger problematic picture seen in women before, during and after menopause. It has an immense hormonal overlay with other symptoms like morning stiffness, generalised body ache, lethargy etc. This is best treated conservatively.
Osteoarthritis is the age-related degeneration of knees. It is an eventuality for many. Women have a higher incidence of knee arthritis, experience more pain than their male counterparts and are more likely to need a surgical intervention for the same. Drop in estrogen levels post menopause, higher body mass indices (BMI) and obesity are a few known risk factors.
The key to successful treatment is discussing surgical and non-surgical options individualized to the individual and to the knee in contention. Your knees may not be behaving your age (they may be much older) and your right knee may not be the same as your left!
There are ways in which women can protect the health of their knees, if not treat them. Most chronic (overuse) injuries around the knee are preventable, many risk factors for acute knee injuries are modifiable, and arthritis though inevitable can be approached in a better way.
* Choose low-impact exercises to protect the cartilage in your knees.
* Cardiovascular activities like cycling and swimming can help keep knee cartilage healthy and prevent future damage.
* Maintain a recommended weight. Extra kilos add significant stress to the knees. Even a 5 kg weight loss can make an enormous difference.
* Stay active every day. Physical activity helps prevent stiffness and muscle atrophy and can protect your knees from future injury.
* Mix up your exercise routine. Movements that put repetitive stress on your knees can increase your risk of developing a knee problem.
* Strengthen your core, upper and lower leg muscles. Focus on exercises that target your hamstrings, quadriceps, gluteus muscles, hip flexors.
* Stretch those same leg muscles to support a full range of motion at the hip and the knee joints. Try incorporating yoga into your stretching routine.
Be cautious when playing sports that require you to abruptly start, stop or pivot, like basketball or football.
* Avoid over-enthusiasm. Zumba, functional workouts that involve jumping, squatting and lunging and yoga asanas like Suryanamaskar, Vajrasana, Padmasana may incite or worsen anterior knee pain (over and around the kneecap).
* See a doctor right away if you have knee pain, swelling or any issue that makes you feel that one knee is better or worse than the other.
* Make the right choices at the right time. Treatment is always your choice. Understand your management options and choose wisely. Procrastination limits your choices and eventually your results.