Achy Knees and Arthritis: Why You Should Worry and What You Can Do

There’s one part of me that’s always felt older and more out of shape than the rest of my body: my knees.

There's one part of me that's always felt older and more out of shape than the rest of my body: my knees. Maybe it's because I tore a bunch of ligaments in one knee when I was in the fourth grade. Maybe it's because up until about two years ago, I did very little running or weight-bearing exercise, and I'm sure my knees have always been weaker than they could have been. Whatever the cause, I've had a long-standing fear about landing too hard or jumping too high and twisting something or worse—plus, a constant ache in both knees whenever I sit with my legs bent for too long.

A few weeks ago I had the chance to meet Jason Theodosakis, MD, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona College of Medicine and author of The Arthritis Cure. "Dr. Theo" wanted to give me some pointers about how to prevent osteoporosis and osteoarthritis—something I'll admit I wasn't that worried about at the age of 26. But I was curious about my knee pain, so I gave him a quick description to see what he thought.

Moviegoer's knee puts me at risk
"Aah, you've got moviegoer's knee," he said, as I described the uncomfortable sensation I get when sitting at a lunch counter, on a train ride, or even at my desk while typing. Huh? He explained that my pain is most likely caused by a decrease in blood flow and hyaluronic acid, a joint lubricator, when the knee is bent at a 90-degree angle. (Another condition, patellofemoral pain syndrome, can also cause similar pain.) Leg-strengthening exercises can help improve symptoms, he said—and I agree that since I've been hitting the weight machines regularly, I definitely have noticed less pain. But he also told me that moviegoer's knee can be a sign of early osteoarthritis. At the very least, this should be a wake-up call that maybe it is early enough to start thinking about the future.

New research released this week from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality shows that 1 in 10 American adults was treated for arthritis in 2005. The most common form is osteoarthritis, usually attacking the fingers, knees, and hips. I always thought of arthritis as affecting primarily senior citizens, but it can actually strike much earlier. My dad, I realize now, has had arthritis in his wrists since his mid-40s. I'm also at risk simply because I'm female: Our hormones, anatomy (wider hips), and even the way we tend to run (more upright than males) increase our chances of suffering knee injuries that can lead to arthritis.

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Amanda MacMillan
Last Updated: October 28, 2008

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