Sunday jogger to top-ranked tennis icon, knee pain is a vexing reality for all of us. In late 2015, the one and only Serena Williams — and Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year — was practically brought to a standstill dy to excruciating knee pain. And in the U.S. alone, the number of knee replacements performed in 2012 exceeded 670,000 (to the tune of some $36.1 billion).
Were they necessary? And what is the best way to take care of our knees? You may well find the answers in Education4Knees: Everything You Need to Know for Happy, Healthy and Pain-Free Knees, a new book by orthopedic surgeon Dr. Gregory Martin. Turns out, it’s not that complicated. It just takes commitment, and consistency.
Dr. Martin is all about the knee. But he approaches knees as a necessary exercise in taking care of oneself, not as a crippling mystery of discomfort or worse that you’d best leave in the hands of experts. On the contrary: simple lifestyle changes can actually prolong the life of your knees. His common-sense approach (this leading surgeon is from a family of mechanics) is hard to argue with. Indeed, one comes away from the book feeling like ignoring his guidance could be a very bad choice. Essentially, he wants us to be far clearer-headed about what makes knees not only hurt, but deteriorate — and then, as we would for a car, treat accordingly.
For instance: knees depend on the presence of water to stay lubricated and not wear down. So drink more water. Knees carry a lot of weight, every step we take, so lighten up. How? Cut your portions in half, there’s no magic to that one. There’s also a series of exercises (designed with a skilled physical therapist) that are easy to do at home: all it takes is a chair for many, and the illustrations map each movement out. Looking for supplements? Here the doctor differs from many of his peers, recommending turmeric, a natural and proven alternative to ibuprofen. He approves of glucosamine as well.
Dr. Martin has treated thousands of knee patients. What’s surprising is that despite being a Board-certified orthopedic surgeon — who has developed some extremely innovative knee surgery techniques — he wants people to not have surgery if possible. At times, nonsurgical methods can do wonders for the knee joint. And if surgery is in the offing, which it may well be, being in the best shape you can be will improve the outcome, he says. So will being educated enough to know what the surgery and recuperation entails — and being able to talk frankly, and in detail, with your doctor. (And if your doctor’s not warm to that idea, you might want to pick a more communicative doctor, says Dr. Martin.)
Dr. Martin’s Education4Knees is a breath of fresh air: honest, readable, enthusiastic, yet unflinching: as he writes, think less about why a knee is in pain, and more about what to do about it. Of the many causes of knee pain — arthritis, meniscal tears, Baker’s cyst, trauma to the knee, a runner’s knee, and other issues — the treatment and approach should often be the same. He also cautions against quick, arthroscopic fixes, which often have less than effective results (as was the case with Williams), and instead encourages a dedication to keeping the knee as healthy as it can be in the first place.
But yes: knees get old. They degenerate. Dr. Martin details the often inevitable “Final Common Pathway” involving the deterioration of the knee joint over time — for most of us, it’s not a matter of if, but when. So while you have them, learn how to keep those knees healthy and moving, says this wise surgeon, and you may find you’re can keep dancing through life for far longer than you’d expected.