Knees and exercise
Danton Dungy, MD, is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon at Banner Desert Medical Center.
Question: I have always been athletic, from softball to aerobics and, after retirement, I started running marathons. Recently I have had to scale down my running because of pain in my knees. Is there anything I can do so I can continue running as exercise?
Answer: There are many options out there for women today who are athletic but might need to have surgery to continue to be active in their later years. My first recommendation would be to talk with an orthopedic surgeon to find out if there might be a need for knee surgery.
Assuming you have not had any serious injury to your knee, the most common ailments about the knee are directly related to overuse ~ like running marathons. Tendonitis, defined as an inflammation of the tendon that connects muscle to bone, is one such issue. Equally, a mechanical problem may exist within your knee, specifically a cushion pad between your knee and shin bones, called the meniscus, may be torn. An orthopedic surgeon can help evaluate these injuries and provide you with treatment options.
Still, marathons and running in general is hard on the joints, especially the knees. You said that you had to scale down your activities; by how much? Do you find yourself limiting not only your exercise but other daily activities because of pain or hardship?
If so, you may have underlying arthritis or the loss of the cartilage surfaces on the ends of your bones. Knee replacement surgery is an option worth consideration. Better joint implants and improved surgical techniques are helping joint replacement patients return to their normal activities after shorter recovery periods. In fact, most patients are fully back to their normal level of activity within weeks of their procedure.
There are two types of knee replacements – partial knee replacement and total knee replacement. Partial knee replacement is used primarily on patients who have some healthy joint surface. In partial knee replacement, your surgeon would remove only the part of the knee that is unhealthy, leaving healthy bone untouched. This surgery is less invasive; therefore you probably will have a slightly shorter recovery time.
Total knee replacement involves removing the portions of all three bones of your knee, before resurfacing your leg bones with implants built from plastic and metal. There have been many advances in knee replacement surgery in the past 10 years, which your orthopedic surgeon can explain to you. Smaller incisions, new techniques and new implants now make it easier for an orthopedic surgeon to customize a knee replacement surgery for each patient. For instance, new “gender knees” are built specifically with a woman’s physique in mind. Smaller and with a slightly different shape, the gender knees work with a woman’s contours to mold to her bone structure. If you are outgoing and enjoy exercise, the gender knee might be just what you need to continue to stay active for a long time after your surgery.
Total knee replacement does require some restrictions following the surgery, as well as rehabilitation for your new joint. Your physician will provide you with all of the follow up information you need to make your surgery as successful, and as painless, as possible.