There I was, doing my body good by stretching my muscles with some standing mat work before undertaking a spirited workout. First up were easy squats with feet spread wide apart and arms extended in front, palms down. The idea is to bend the knees and lower the buttocks slowly toward the floor before rising tall again to the starting position.
On the very first rep, I felt something tendon-like slide over my left kneecap as I sank downward, controlling my movements. Sharp pain said this particular routine was over. I proceeded with other stretches that didn’t stress my knees and finished exercising.
Being a die-hard do-it-yourselfer, I treated the sports injury at home with alternating hot and cold packs, muscle rub, elevation, and an elastic bandage wrap. After a few weeks, I’m happy to say my knee is almost 100 percent again.
There is no denying that my step has lost some of its spring as I enter the autumn of my life. Yes, I am no longer a supple spring chicken but I firmly believe that we aging seniors can stay fit for life, as I have written before.
The key to good health is simple, although not necessarily easy. Proper nutrition, regular exercise, and a positive outlook are essentials for going the distance in style and ease.
Still, aging brings with it certain physical conditions known to introduce extra challenges. One of them is losing the spongy cushioning tissue in the joints that prevents bone rubbing on bone – which is very painful indeed.
As we get older, the layer of spongy cartilage that caps and protects the ends of the bones starts to dry out. Similar to wet leather, the cartilage becomes stiff as it dries. At the same time, the body also produces less lubricating synovial fluid that acts like motor oil in an engine, reducing friction and increasing glide.
The combination of less cartilage and less synovial fluid is what leads to creaky knees in people of mature years or who have engaged in vigorous sports, suffering multiple injuries, and wind up with tennis elbow or bum ankles.
Although it may sound counterintuitive, movement is an effective way to relieve joint pain. Synovial fluid needs motion to keep the joints loose so right after waking up, hands and knees are often stiff and perhaps even swollen.
To help your synovial fluid make its rounds and prevent morning joint stiffness, stay active throughout the day. Stretch up to the ceiling and bend down to the ground. Twist from side to side. Shake your shoulders. Roll your abdomen in broad circles from the waist. Get up and dance!
For a stiff or injured knee, a forward lunge can do more harm than good by aggravating tender joints. One solution is to practice isometric moves where you hold a position instead of moving through the exercise.
To do an isometric lunge, with hands-on-hips, stand tall with your shoulders back and tightened core (abdominal muscles). Take a giant step backward with one leg and stand on the ball of that foot. From this position, slowly lower your body toward the floor by bending both knees.
Make sure your forward knee doesn’t poke forward over the ankle – keep them aligned. Sink down as low as is comfortable and hold the lunge for 30 seconds or as long as possible without knee pain.
Stand slowly and bring the back foot forward alongside the front foot. Repeat this sequence on the other side. Do deep, medium, and shallow lunges to strengthen your knees at various angles.
Another excellent joint exercise to reduce pain and increase mobility is the isometric hip switch. Sit with knees bent and heels on the floor in front, separated a bit more than shoulder-width. Place both hands on the floor behind your hips for balance, as needed.
Glue your knees together and drop them both to one side of your body. Your torso rotates as you do this motion. Stop when both knees are as close to the floor as is comfortable and your torso is turned so that you are facing the direction of your bent knees. For extra benefit, gently turn your head in the direction away from your knees.
Pause for as long as you like, then raise both legs, knees still glued together, and repeat in the opposite direction. Continue alternating back and forth for 8-15 reps on each side.
A variation of this excellent waistline stretch is to lie on your back with both arms stretched out straight to each side with palms down to anchor you. Slowly bend and raise both knees to your chest until they form a flat table-top parallel to the floor. If this is painful, try lowering your knees (this is harder on the abs, though).
Lower your bent legs to one side and hold the position for 30 seconds or as long as you feel comfortable. Then, raise your legs to the center and lower them to the opposite side. Hold this position and relax into it. Feel the stretch on the oblique muscles.
There are many other helpful exercise ideas available online and in bookstores just waiting to make your life better. Stretching, bending, and flexing your body will keep you supple and minimize stiff joints and associated pain. What’s not to like?