Your Knees: An Owner's Manual

Snap, crack, pop — who hasn’t winced when a knee acts up? Don’t sideline yourself: The sooner you assess your symptoms and correct the underlying cause, the longer your knees will stay strong and pain-free.

By Naomi Freundlich

Diagnosis Knee Pain: Osteoarthritis"A woman is only as young as her knees," the designer Mary Quant once said — how true. More than a quarter of women over 40 report having knee pain most days, and even more report persistent pain after 50. Yes, aging is a major factor: In our 40s, we begin to lose muscle mass at a rate of about one percent a year. With less muscle, the knee joint, tendons, and ligaments have to absorb more of the force of walking and other daily activities. The passing years can also cause the knee’s protective cartilage to thin and become less resilient. If you’re carrying around as few as 10 extra pounds, that also puts more strain on your knees. "We may get knee problems like we get wrinkles and gray hair," says orthopedic surgeon Nicholas A. DiNubile, MD, author of FrameWork: Your 7-Step Program for Healthy Muscles, Bones, and Joints. Yeah, but thanks to Botox and Clairol, we can fix those cosmetic issues. Can’t we do the same for our knees? In the majority of cases, the answer is yes. Most knee pain doesn’t require surgery, and most problems don’t even require medical attention — just commonsense first aid. Knowing what the trouble is and how to treat it can get you back on your feet again quickly.Do I Have Osteoarthritis?You might, if the pain you feel:

  • Occurs anywhere in the joint.
  • Is worse (painful, stiff) for the first half hour or so after you get up in the morning and/or after you’ve been sitting for a long time, then gradually lessens.
  • Occurs when you’re going up and down stairs; your knee may also feel unstable or lock briefly.

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