Protecting your knees is part of protecting your overall health, and protecting your health helps ensure your financial security.
For runners, joint problems can creep up slowly, and runner's knee is among the most common. Even if you don't have minor pain or signs of weak knees, you'll want to take proper care of those joints -- especially if you're a runner. Bad form, injuries and nutrition can all contribute to gradually sorer knees, and sometimes osteoarthritis. You may think it's just a little pain to work through, but sore knees are often a sign of serious problems in the future.
Ignoring that sign may cost you, in the form of a serious injury in the near future or a serious surgery in the more distant future. Either way, pretending it's no big deal is a risk you shouldn't take. For you, devoted runner, prevention and appropriate care mean you'll be a runner much longer. It means more miles, more races, more hours and more of that runner's high. It just might also mean more money in your pocket later. Here's why.
1. Knee surgery is insanely expensive. Not taking care of your knees can result in more than pain. Your knees might become deformed, or "bowed," from joint degeneration. Chronic inflammation might also result, which can make knee pain even worse. When that pain starts limiting your ability to carry out daily activities, or becomes unbearable, you might need knee replacement surgery. This is a major surgery with weeks of recovery time and physical therapy afterward, but more than 90 percent of recipients report rapid and substantial improvement.
Knee replacement surgeries are among the most common operations performed, with more than 700,000 procedures each year in the U.S., and about 4 million Americans currently have artificial knees. With an average price tag of $50,105, knee replacement surgeries are also among the most expensive, and the high price doesn't guarantee better results. That's just an average, though. Knee surgeries, like almost all hospital procedures, vary widely between states, counties and individual hospitals. Based on recently released Medicare data, the procedure can cost as little as $5,303 and as much as $223,373. Even if your health insurance covers part of it, that's a bill you won't want to pay -- ever.
2. You'll stay active (and healthy) longer. While most people won't ever need a knee replacement, nobody is immune to the effects of aging. However, one of the best ways to stave off old-age effects, including dementia, is to live a healthy and active lifestyle. This includes diet and weight regulation as well, since excess body weight can contribute heavily to knee pain and other joint problems. By keeping your knees strong, you'll be able to keep running as you age and stay fit longer.
3. Bad knees can affect the rest of your body. In addition to keeping yourself out of the operating room, taking care of your knees is beneficial for the rest of your body. Knee problems can affect the hips, back and other common areas for pain. This is because when one or both knees hurt, you will consciously or unconsciously compensate by adjusting your posture. Sometimes this takes form as limping, but sometimes it's slight and barely visible. Subtle changes in your body's alignment can result in muscle tension and joint pain you may not even know the cause of until much later.
Just like obesity and aging, muscle and joint pain usually result in doctors' bills and prescription drug costs. Hip replacements are also among the most common surgeries, and the generic version of Vicodin is the most commonly prescribed narcotic painkiller in America. So by taking care of your knees, you're really taking care of your overall health, now and in the future. By taking care of your health, you're taking care of your personal finances.
How to care for your knees. Now that you know the risk you run by not taking care of your knees, what should you be doing? Here's a quick guide:
- Eat right and stay active! Keeping weight off is the best prevention for knee problems.
- Always warm up before working out.
- Stretch your quads and hamstrings regularly, before and after workouts.
- Increase intensity of any activity gradually, but especially cardio and strength training.
- Keep your leg muscles strong by doing strength activities at least twice per week.
- Change your running shoes often, about every 200 miles, and always wear properly fitting shoes.
- When you have minor knee pain, use ice to reduce inflammation.
- When you have moderate knee pain, reduce painful activities; swimming is a good alternative to running and is usually cheap at a rec center.
- Talk with your doctor when your knees are bothering you.