Mobility, as we age over 65, can often be like a 4-letter word in our vocabulary (especially if you are struggling with knee issues). Knees are one of top targets of several forms of arthritis as we age that can cause serious damage and pain when it comes to our mobility. Knee joint health issues can include replacing the joint all together and can often stem from other common problems associated with aging such as the following:
This is caused when the cartilage covering the ends of the bones where they meet to form joints break down, causing bone-on-bone joint friction, which also can cause our bones to create spurs (small pieces of bone growth), that may form around the joint which are extremely painful. All of these changes lead to severe pain, stiffness and swelling of the muscle and tissue around the joint.
This is a condition in which the body's immune system attacks the membrane that lines the joint. This can lead to debilitating pain, inflammation and destruction of the joint.
This is a form of osteoarthritis that may occur after a knee injury (or other joint injury in the shoulders, elbows, fingers, etc), such as a fracture or ligament tear, which is also extremely painful as the joint wears away.
Avascular Necrosis or Osteonecrosis
This happens when bones lose their blood supply, die, and eventually collapse leading to excruciating pain, debilitation, loss of leg use, wheelchair confinement and other serious outcomes.
All of these types of arthritis can cause devastating injuries that can bring on severe inflammation and affect the alignment of the knee, or overall knee joint usability, leading to cartilage damage over time. These issues can get to the point that participating in physical activities becomes extremely difficult, walking up the stairs becomes almost unbearable and even walking unassisted on flat surfaces becomes intolerant. Many seniors find themselves having to sell their home and move into a floor apartment or assisted living facilities due to loss of mobility too.
As dooming as the situations sound you can work to prevent them if you don’t write off exercising just yet! There are particular exercises that you CAN do, to build your lower body strength for heathier stronger knees as you age that will help you to stay active longer, so that you can continue to do the physical activities you like to do with your spouse, partner, friends and family.
Supporting healthy building and maintaining of good joint and muscle flexibility is important to mobility prevention. According to a recent National Hospital Discharge Survey between 2000 and 2010, more than 5.2 million total knee replacements were performed in the United States, with 2010 showing the lead for inpatient surgery performed on adults aged 45 and over, with the biggest patient age demographic dropping from 69 years old to 66. With this drop in age, it is more important now more than ever to be proactive in aiding our bodies to prevent biological degeneration of our joints, strengthen our muscles and tissue and create for prolonged flexibility.
As a physical fitness trainer and a sports physiologist, I recommend incorporating these top exercises into your physical activity as you age for stronger knee and leg support: Back Leg Lifts, Side Leg Lifts, Knee Flexions and one of my favorite machines as a personal trainer and fitness coach-the Stair Master.
Now remember that you are never too old to start building muscles and strength, and each of these exercises can be done either while on the Stair Master, or modified for stationary participation from the floor for flexibility, so that no matter where you are in your age or fitness capability range, you can participate. Also keep in mind that these are preventative exercises, so if you currently have knee pain or are dealing with post-surgery, these exercises can cause more damage than help. Make sure to talk to your Dr. for recovery therapy exercises that are beneficial for your specific surgery.
Let's start with leg lifts.
Leg lifts strengthen your buttocks and lower back which works with the back of your leg to support the knee.
Floor Leg Lift:
Stand behind a sturdy chair, holding on for balance. Breathe in slowly.
Breathe out and slowly lift one leg straight back without bending your knee or pointing your toes. Try not to lean forward. The leg you are standing on should be slightly bent.
Hold position for 1 second.
Breathe in as you slowly lower your leg.
Perform 10 to 15 lifts (or 6-8 lifts depending on your current mobility) on both legs
3 x's each.
Stair Master Lift:
Put the Stair Master on a slower speed and step up with one leg and then lift the other one behind you before you step up. You can hold on to the sides of the machine for balance, but don’t hold yourself up with your arms or you'll lose the some of the strength in your legs needed to build the muscle.
Side Leg Lifts:
This exercise strengthens your hips, thighs, and buttocks for total leg strength
Floor Side Leg Lift:
Stand behind a sturdy chair with feet slightly apart, holding on for balance. Breathe in slowly.
Breathe out and slowly lift one leg out to the side. Keep your back straight and your toes facing forward. The leg you are standing on should be slightly bent.
Hold position for 1 second.
Breathe in as you slowly lower your leg.
Repeat 10 to 15 times.
Repeat 10 to 15 times with other leg.
Repeat 10 to 15 more times with each leg.
For more intense exercise, do this activity with light hand weights or on the Stair Master
Stair Master Side Leg Lifts:
While the stairs are at a moderate pace, and using the lowest step to the ground for a 90 degree angle on your kick, kick your right leg out to the side, squeezing the glutes, then skip one step when you return your foot to the stairs. Alternate legs for a total of 1 minute before using the stairs normally for 1 minute, then repeat the routine for a total period of 5-10 minutes.
Standing Knee Flexion:
This exercise strengthens your hamstrings and your knees for better balance, which is imperative for walking and standing safely (which could aid in preventing falls leading with to hip replacements)
Floor Standing Knee Flexion:
Demo for Stationary Exercise:
Stand using a chair to balance yourself
Bend your right knee backward as high as you can.
Return to the starting position and repeat 10 times on each foot, for 3 sets
Stair Master Standing Knee Flexion:
Put the Stair Master on a slow speed
Step up to the middle stair
With your next step bring your foot up to the back of your buttocks and lower to climb the next step
Repeat with your other leg, and alternate legs for a total of 1-2 minutes
Breathing and support:
Remember to wear a flexible knee brace for added support if you need it, and also to breathe properly to maximize your body's energy. Exhale during the upward movement phase and inhale during the downward movement phase of each exercise.
Last but not least, don't forget to hydrate with at LEAST 64 oz. water throughout the day to keep you hydrated and prevent extra tightness in your muscles.
Combining these 3 exercises (on or off the Stair Master) with proper hydration, high quality protein and a balanced nutrition plan, will strengthen the muscles and joints in your entire leg which will support the knee for longevity so you can stay mobile without pain for longer!