How to have healthier knees

Original article:


Getting pains in your knees? You’re not alone. Here’s why it happens – and what you might be able to do about it –


Why do my knees hurt?

If you go to your doctor with knee pain and swelling, clicking knees or crunching sensations, the chances are you will be told it’s normal wear and tear or osteoarthritis. The two terms have become interchangeable, but there are also a number of specific inflammatory joint conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, which are inherited and not just due to wear and tear.

Why is the knee so vulnerable?

The knee is a large, load-bearing, hinged joint, which has to cope with a lot of twisting and bending. When doctors refer to wear and tear on the knee, they are talking about damage caused to the cartilage on the surface of the joint over the years, which can cause movement to feel clunky. Most of us will be affected to some degree, but family traits – such as bandy legs or flat feet, which have an impact on how weight is transmitted through the knee – can mean you inherit a pattern of wear and tear in the knee.

How can I stop my knees hurting?

The heavier you are, the more of a pounding your knees take, and the current epidemic of obesity is one reason younger people are having problems. Keeping your weight down doesn’t just help prevent knee damage; it can also alleviate pain. Another issue is sport. If you have always played contact sports and your knees start to complain, it may be time to stop. Football is particularly tough, and racquet sports – where you have to accelerate and decelerate rapidly – can punish the knees.

Should I exercise if my knees hurt?

If the pain is severe, or you haven’t exercised for a while, it’s best to check with your GP or physiotherapist first. But, if the pain in the knee is only minor, motor on – it can help to alleviate the pain. Painless clicking or grinding is nothing to worry about. If you sit for a while in a cramped position, then get up and find your knees hurt, it doesn’t mean your knees are wearing out – you may just need to exercise more.

What sort of exercise is best?

The muscles in the front of the thigh, the quadriceps, and at the back, the hamstrings, work like shock absorbers for the knee. The stronger they are, the more the knee is protected. Ideally, do a mix of exercises to build up strength alongside flexibility and general fitness. You can go to a gym or use a personal trainer, but there are simple things you can do at home, such as step-ups on the stairs or modified squats using a chair.

How much exercise should I do?

Try not to go from doing nothing to doing too much – overloading the knees can result in pain and swelling. Walking and cycling are good habits to get into, but bear in mind that people who do well with exercise long term find a level of exercise that is tolerable for them.

What about shoes?

You might not think it, but it isn’t always best to wear flats if you’ve been wearing high heels all your life. It can be hard to adapt to flats, and vice versa: the change can irritate the knees. When it’s time to make the transition to summer footwear, like flip-flops, make the change a gradual one. If you do suffer with knee problems, comfortable, supportive footwear can be a great help.

Should I think about surgery?

If your knees become very painful or stiff, surgery may be recommended. There are several options, from simple keyhole surgery through to knee replacement. A new knee can be fantastic but it’s a major operation, which can mean a lot of rehabilitation work. Look after your knees, however, and you can significantly lower your risk of needing surgery.

Kate Sheehy is a chartered physiotherapist. If you have a question about knee pain, you can email Kate at

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