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Don't Be Weak in the Knees

AARP empowers you to pursue your goals and dreams - Gloria Estefan

Man holding knee, Martina Navratilova, Take care of your knees (Istockphoto)

Don't let a bad knee prevent you from continuing your exercise routine. — Istockphoto

En español l I've often said that the body makes decisions for us, and often we don't like those decisions.

When I was in my 30s, I had to withdraw from a Virginia Slims Championship because of persistent pain in my right knee. Rather than attempt to win a fifth title at that championship, I found myself undergoing arthroscopic surgery on both of my knees. There was no way I could successfully compete; the decision was made for me by my knee. My condition was basically a matter of wear and tear on both knees. My mind was willing, but my knees were not. I couldn't even get to the ball.

My orthopedist ended up removing calcium deposits and fraying cartilage from my right knee. It was the first — but not the last — operation in my career. Everything went well, thankfully, and three weeks after surgery, I was skiing.

Statistics tell us that one out of every four sports injuries involves the knee. But you don't have to be a pro athlete to be among the afflicted. If you ride a bike, dance, hike, or even climb stairs, you can be susceptible to knee problems.

The knee is especially vulnerable to injury. Think about it: The knee works hard as a hinge and a shock absorber. It lets us walk, run, slide, climb, bend, lift, kick and assume all sorts of positions.

Despite this versatile mobility and function, the knee is not designed to take too much impact, overuse or abuse. You have to respect your knees. They get you where you want to go and help you do what you want to do.

As we get older, one of the things that happens is that the circular cartilage within the knee, called the meniscus, can tear. Sometimes these tears have to be removed surgically; sometimes they do not. For example, experts found that most people by the age of 50 already have some meniscus tears but without troublesome effects.

Nonetheless, it always is better to err on the side of caution: Protect your knees and prevent injuries, while still staying active. Some suggestions:

Each week, do some strengthening exercises for your quadriceps (the large four-part muscle group on the front of the thigh). Building the muscles in this region of the body strengthens the area surrounding your knee. Leg extensions are a good exercise for most people.

Listen to your body. Don't overdo or overintensify your exercise routine or you could cause an overuse injury to your knees.

After working out, do some quad stretches. Stand straight and hold on to a wall or a sturdy structure to balance yourself. Bend your right knee behind you and hold your right foot with your right hand. Stretch the thigh muscles gently for about 10 seconds. Repeat with your left leg.

Try lower-risk sports like swimming or cycling. This is especially important if you've had knee troubles. These are low-impact moves for the knee. A caveat: If you cycle, make sure the seat is adjusted to the proper height. A proper adjustment helps protect your knees.

Consider losing weight. Being heavy puts an extra burden on your knees that could lead to arthritis.

When I first started experiencing knee problems, I thought I was getting old. But looking back, it wasn't my age; it was my knees. I've been taking care of my knees ever since, and there's nothing I can't do.

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