By Lorraine Pelley
Common Knee Injuries in Older Athletes and How to Protect Them
If you have ever suffered a knee injury, you will know just how frustrating it can be to have a crucial joint impair your ability to perform your favourite athletic sport. It never fails to amaze how minor issues can turn into major aches as we get older. For most of us, our knees were never an issue during my younger years, but as we get older, they are becoming a pain in the…… well, knee.
The Aging Body
One of the more unfortunate aspects of aging is that, whether we like it or not, the body starts to go through some degeneration. Muscle tissue declines in both mass and strength, connective tissue becomes less flexible, lubrication production in the joints decreases and we lose bone mass more quickly than we did in our youth. Combine all of that with reduced balance, stability and other age-related changes and voila, increased risk of injury.
Knees are especially vulnerable to aches and damage because they are highly movable, complex joints made of bone, ligaments, tendons, and cartilage. Aside from the extra force put on the area by physical fitness, the leg hinge goes through constant regular stresses during daily use.
Nothing is more frustrating than trying to participate in your favourite sport only to be stopped short by joint pain. Anyone who has ever suffered from leg joint issues knows just how hindering this can be, especially when it interferes with our ability to perform. It’s also a reminder that while we can fight the effects of aging, there are some parts of the process that we cannot completely stop. But it doesn’t by any means have to be all doom and gloom – far from it!
Common Knee Problems
Knee problems can be a common issue with athletes and more so with mature athletes; especially when their sport adds extra wear and tear on the area. Common athletic injuries include joint dislocations, meniscal tears, bursitis, tendon and ligament injuries such as tears and strains, inflammation of the connective tissue (tendonitis), arthritis, and bone fractures. The damage can result in a minor irritation or be more severe and even life altering. Damage can result from prolonged stress causing harm or direct trauma to the area.
See Your Doctor
While some conditions are treatable with therapy, rest, and exercises, other issues are more serious, requiring immediately medical attention. For those with knee or other injuries, it is important to see your doctor immediately when:
- Pain is severe causing a significant loss of usage or weightbearing
- You experience chronic pain that lasts longer than a week
- The damage reduces mobility
- Injury is the result of blunt force trauma
For those who have experienced a previous ordeal, learning to care for the body area is critical to preventing further harm. As Masters Athletes, learning to care for all areas of the body is part of living a healthy, balanced, and active life.
There are things we can do to protect the knees and reduce injury or further damage. Like other parts of the body, strengthening and proper care of the joint tissues goes a long way in reducing risk of harm.
To protect your joints:
Warmup Before Working Out
While there has been some debate recently over the benefits of warming up before intense exercise, the reality is there is benefit to moving the body moderately before exerting force to the tissues. This increases flexibility and blood flow, reducing the risk of harm from sudden movements.
Avoid Overdoing It
This is especially important when trying a new sport. Pushing your body too hard and too fast can cause damage. It is better to moderate your activity, push yourself within realistic limitations, and stop when you start to feel pain.
Wear Proper Equipment
As Masters Athletes, this is a given. Those who are serious about their sport know just how crucial proper footwear and other equipment is to their performance. If you are starting a new athletic endeavour, ask experts about the right gear needed so you can give your body maximum reinforcement.
Knee Strengthening Exercises
Knee exercises will help strengthen the joint and surrounding area, so it will withstand the stresses related to fitness. If you are not sure what are the best exercises for your joints, a physio, athletic or other therapist can provide excellent knee strengthening exercises for you to do.
A diet high in vitamins and minerals including protein, calcium, and vitamin D will provide the tissues with the vital nutrients needed to maintain optimal health. Drinking lots of water will add lubrication to the area, reducing friction during movement.
As we age, the bodies nutritional needs also change. Eating foods rich in the nutrients is essential for a healthy, balanced life.
Different Treatment Options
There are different medical professionals available to help Masters Athletes manage their aches and pains. If you are experiencing aching joints, visiting your doctor, physio or athletic therapist, acupuncturist, massage or other specialists will help keep your body health and functioning optimally.
There is no denying that aging increases the risk of injury to the body, especially complex, highly used areas like the knee joint. But that should by no means define your participation in your favour sport. As Masters Athletes, proactive care, and listening to your body is essential to keeping the maturing body parts strong, healthy, and moving injury free.