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Knee Pain: Are your legs in “knee”d of a vacation?

Many women suffer from knee pain, and in some cases it can be a serious problem.  A real housewife once said “The higher the heel the closer to god”, but unfortunately outside of Beverly Hills, the higher the heel the closer to orthopedic surgery you may be. Every year about 10 million women visit their doctor for knee pain. In many cases, women can get knee injuries without even being involved in sports or exercise.

Women often suffer from knee pain and injuries due to their anatomy. Unlike men, women have wider hips and the upper leg is curved slightly inwards, causing the knees to be closer together. This puts stress on the knees and can result in more frequent injuries if women are not careful.

Although it appears simple, the knee joint is extremely sophisticated. For you to hop up out of bed, or get your Gangnam style on, all the parts of the knee need to work together.

The knee is made up of the patella (aka knee cap), ligaments that help the thigh and lower leg bones connect together, and ligaments that keep the knee from moving sideways. The inner knee is also full of fluid that helps keep the joint moving smoothly and cartilage that covers the top of the leg bones to provide support and lubrication as your knee moves back and forth. As you can imagine, an impact to any one of these parts can cause increased inflammation, and in turn, a lot of pain.

One of the most common causes of knee pain in women is related to the knee cap. In a normal knee, the patella has tendons that attach on the top and bottom of the patella and help it to move up and down smoothly. The patella is lined with cartilage to help it glide smoothly along the bones of the upper and lower leg. When this cartilage wears away the patella begins to grind against the bones and cause pain. This can occur with excessive exercise, strain on the front of the knee, or from activities that put prolonged pressure on the knee.

Pain in the anterior knee is also common when the muscles of the thigh are weak. These muscles help the patella to move smoothly. When there is weakness of either the inner or outer components of the thigh muscles the kneecap is more likely to deviate to one side and cause pain. Add to this exercises that put significant stress on the knee joint (running, jumping, plyometric exercises, etc.), and you can suffer from significant pain.

As activity increases, the chances of sustaining an injury to the ligaments or inner components of the knee also increase.  In many cases a sudden twisting or shifting movement at the knee while your foot is planted is all it takes to get an injury.

Here are a few ways to avoid injury:

Strengthen your thigh muscles: Quadriceps and hamstring strengthening is a common recommendation by many orthopedic and sports physicians. By strengthening these muscles, the knee cap can move smoothly and in a straight line and you can avoid pain. An easy way to do this is use the leg press with your foot turned outwards for one set and then inwards for the next. Do these movements slowly and you will isolate both the inner and outer thigh. Expect to feel the burn!

Heel-free days: We get it. It is tough to ditch your high heels. Unfortunately, constantly wearing high heels places significant stress on the front and sides of your knee. Opt for flat shoes with good support for daytime, and if you do wear heels, keep a pair of flats with you incase your knees begin to hurt while walking.

Don’t be a Hero: Many women like to push themselves, even if the pain is unbearable. If your knees are aching or burning from pain, limit or even stop your activity. Give your knees a rest, and try to ice them to bring down the swelling and inflammation you may have developed. Stopping your activity can be the difference between a minor injury and surgery if you sustain a severe injury.

Shed some pounds: Another reason to bring down your weight if you are overweight or obese- less knee pain. As you walk, the knees can feel a force of anywhere from four to six times your body weight. If you are overweight, this can be a large strain on the knees and lead to worsening pain and even early arthritis.

If you continue to suffer from knee pain despite these simple tips, visit your physician for a proper exam and further treatment.

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