Goldilocks and Your Knee Cartilage

You need car­ti­lage to cush­ion and guide move­ment between your bones.

But over the years, if you grind down the car­ti­lage in your joints, it has only a lim­ited abil­ity to regen­er­ate.  Then you develop the pain and stiff­ness of osteoarthritis.

That’s why it’s impor­tant to treat your joints lov­ingly through­out the life span.

Car­ti­lage needs motion in order to be healthy.  Joint motion speeds the flow of nutri­ents and waste prod­ucts into and out of your car­ti­lage.  And motion also sig­nals the pro­tein fil­a­ments in your car­ti­lage to align in the opti­mal orientation.

But can too much motion backfire?

Researchers at the Depart­ment of Radi­ol­ogy and Bio­med­ical Imag­ing at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, San Fran­cisco stud­ied the exer­cise habits of indi­vid­u­als between the ages of 45 and 60 and also tested the health sta­tus of their knee car­ti­lage.  They recently pre­sented some of their find­ings at a meet­ing of the Radi­o­log­i­cal Soci­ety of North America.

The most highly active 15% of peo­ple – those who engaged in vig­or­ous phys­i­cal activ­ity such as run­ning or play­ing ten­nis – had the worst car­ti­lage degen­er­a­tion.  The most seden­tary 15% — the total couch pota­toes – had an inter­me­di­ate level of car­ti­lage degen­er­a­tion.  And the mid­dle range of peo­ple, those who engaged in mod­er­ate phys­i­cal activ­ity, had the health­i­est cartilage.

You’ve got to exer­cise.  But you have to be like Goldilocks and make sure your exer­cise plan is “just right.” Here are some tips to make sure you get all of the ben­e­fits with­out the negatives:

  • Vary the types of exer­cise you do so that no one joint takes too much pounding.
  • Incor­po­rate high inten­sity inter­val train­ing (HIIT).  Experts believe that shorter amounts of higher-intensity exer­cise are bet­ter than longer peri­ods of less-intense exer­cise.  With HIIT you get less knee-cartilage pound­ing and more car­dio­vas­cu­lar and muscle-building benefit.
  • Include exer­cise (such as t’ai ch’i) that devel­ops bal­ance, coor­di­na­tion, body aware­ness, and move­ment flow.
  • Chi­ro­prac­tic joint mobi­liza­tion and manip­u­la­tion may also pro­vide a cartilage-boosting ben­e­fit by ensur­ing that the weight-bearing load is dis­trib­uted evenly through­out your car­ti­lage sur­faces, rather than over­load­ing local areas of the joint.
  • Nutri­tional sup­ple­ments, includ­ing glu­cosamine sul­fate and omega-3 fatty acids, can help nour­ish your car­ti­lage and main­tain its abil­ity to bind water.


Deepen Your Body of Knowledge

What my col­league taught me about knee rotation

The first step in diag­nos­ing knee pain


2 Responses to “Goldilocks and Your Knee Cartilage”

  1. George Blomme says:

    Seems to me that cer­tain HIIT such as jog­ging (among other activ­i­ties) could injure the knees with the relent­less pound­ing of feet hit­ting asphalt or con­crete. Tread­mills might be less of a prob­lem. What do you think? Should HIIT be con­sid­ered more activity-specific, lim­it­ing cer­tain activ­i­ties (such as jog­ging) for preser­va­tion of knees?

    • George — I sup­pose too much pound­ing on con­crete can destroy someone’s knees over the years, but every­one is dif­fer­ent. Run­ning gives a lot of mean­ing to many peo­ple and they’re in great shape, too. So I wouldn’t want to take that away from them. But con­crete is not a nat­ural sur­face for human loco­mo­tion, either. Var­ied activ­i­ties are no doubt the best. Or at least run on a dirt track (or tread­mill I suppose)

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