By Dr. Willie Ong
Q. I’m 28 years old. I injured my knee while playing basketball. There is pain in my right knee that doesn’t go away. Can I take glucosamine supplements for my knee?
A. Our knees are one of the most abused and neglected joints in our body. Aside from helping us flex and jump, our knees bear the burden of carrying our body weight. So it’s best for us to learn how to take care of our knees while we’re still young.
The Truth About Glucosamine Supplements
Glucosamine is a precursor for glycosaminoglycans, which is a major component of joint cartilage. So the thinking is that glucosamine supplements will help rebuild cartilage and treat arthritis. However, when tested in scientific trials, the results are a bit disappointing.
Glucosamine is given for osteoarthritis of the knee, a disease of ageing. It may or may not help. Glucosamine is relatively safe but there are people who should not take them. Those with allergy to shellfish, and those having colds should avoid it. Diabetics may find their blood sugar levels increasing with glucosamine (It’s glucose really from the word).
Glucosamine is often combined with other supplements such as chondroitin sulfate and methylsulfonylmethane. In short, the common sense approach is that if you don’t have osteoarthritis (which normally occurs in people 50 years or older), then I don’t advise you to take these supplements. But for older patients with bad osteoarthritis, you may try them.
But instead of relying too much on medicines, it’s better to learn these knee-saving techniques:
On Exercise and Choice of Shoes
- Stretch first. Use static stretching only. Hold for 15 seconds and repeat, then switch. Avoid bouncing too much.
- Try low impact exercises. High impact exercises refer to lots of running and jumping like basketball, badminton and soccer. Avoid activities that stress your knees, such as deep knee bends or downhill running. Low impact exercises are swimming, walking and taichi. Try playing on a softer surface like wood for basketball or shell for tennis. Run on grass instead of concrete.
- Avoid the twist. Our knees connect the thigh and leg bone through several ligaments. Sudden twists, pivots and turns, like in dancing, basketball and badminton can tear your knee ligament (ACL). The usual injury comes from a bad fall.
- Replace your rubber shoes. Some people don’t replace their rubber shoes unless there’s a hole in it already. Did you know that running shoes are only good for around 400 miles? Afterwards, the shoes lose its ability to protect the runner. Gather your rubber shoes and make an honest and difficult decision. To keep or to throw away? Choose rubber shoes with good arch supports.
- Consider knee guards. You can use knee guards for sports like roller-skating or soccer. Knee braces also help protect the knee from further injuries.
- Limit wearing high heels. Ladies love to wear high heels because it enhances their figure. It makes the breasts protrude forward and gives ladies a curvy walk. The bad: they’re hard on your knees. A small pebble or a cracked pavement can put the gloom on a perfect romantic evening.
On Household Work
- Avoid carrying heavy loads. Heavy objects put a strain on the knees and back. If possible, avoid heavy chores like hanging up clothes, vacuuming, lifting and pushing furniture, etc. This puts a lot of stress on the knees and back.
- Avoid long periods of standing during ironing, dishwashing and peeling potatoes. Sit if possible.
- Avoid kneeling. If you need to scrub the floor or clean bathtubs, use mop and long-handled utensils for cleaning. Kneeling for long periods puts a lot of strain on the knees. If you’re in church, use the soft pads for kneeling.
- Plan ahead! Gather all your cooking supplies at one time. Place utensils and supplies in a convenient position, so they can be grabbed without too much bending or stretching.
For Those with Bad Knees
- For bathing, place a sturdy bathtub stool inside the tub.
- Avoid going up and down the stairs many times.
- Rest the knees. Take intervals of rest throughout your daily activities. Sit and take a break.
Tips for Everyone
- Lose weight. If you’re 20 pounds overweight, then it’s like you’re carrying a 20-pound chair tied around your back. Your knees will bear the burden of this weight.
- Keep bones strong. Starting from childhood, we should take calcium-rich foods like milk, fish, green vegetables and tofu. Limit your intake of meat. Alcohol and smoking also makes one lose bone strength. For ladies, take your calcium supplements daily.
Thoughts on Knee Surgery:
Any sudden twist, pivot or unexpected fall can tear your knee ligaments. Usually it will involve the ACL or anterior cruciate ligament. This injury may need expensive and difficult surgery.
Knee surgery may allow you to return to high-level athletic activity but they are not 100% effective. Some people don’t improve even with surgery. So it’s always better to care for your knees while they are still in good condition.
Like a broken porcelain dish, once our knees are injured, they’re not the same anymore. Be aware of your knees, especially creaking ones. And remember our knee-friendly tips: Lose weight, exercise with care, and keep bones strong.