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.


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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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