The human knee has a complex shock absorption system that is controlled by both primary and secondary tissues. The thighbone (femur) sits perched on top of the shinbone (tibia) separated only by a thin layer of sponge-like material called the meniscus. Our modern day human bodies are greatly outliving our ancestors, thus this tiny shock absorber becomes relatively inefficient as we age. It’s common that with years of activity the meniscus begins to wear out. Inflammation is created as the thigh and shin bone come in contact with one another, a process physicians term osteoarthritis. It’s common in today’s cut-and-paste society for physicians to rush the patient in for a procedure called arthroscopic partial meniscectomy, in which unstable pieces of the meniscus are removed and the remaining edges are smoothed. However, mounds of research, including a recent publication this past month in the New England Journal Of Medicine (http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1301408), are showing that lifestyle intervention and physical therapy can greatly reduce the pain associated with knee osteoarthritis.
Physical Therapy focuses on strengthening the muscles surrounding the knee. These quadriceps muscles represent the primary shock absorbers in the knee while the meniscus provides only secondary support. By strengthening the appropriate muscles and improving range of motion the knee operates more efficiently.
At Hilton Head Health we use exercise strategies adopted from years of medical research in our strength training classes. So, if you’re experiencing knee pain don’t be afraid to take a trip to H3 before you go under the knife. If you are interested in learning more we encourage you to also read Strong Women and Men Beat Arthritis (http://www.amazon.com/Strong-Women-Men-Beat-Arthritis/dp/0399528563), by Dr. Miriam Nelson from Tufts University. Her decades of research have shown that using an exercise program achieved “a 43% reduction in pain, a 44% improvement in physical function and a 71% improvement in strength.”