Ignoring lower-limb muscle mass could lead to knee osteoarthritis

Have you ever heard that weight-bearing exercises could be putting your knees at risk if your lower-limb muscle mass isn’t up to par? 

Ignoring lower-limb muscle mass might lead to knee osteoarthritis, as recent research reveals [1]​​. 

The interplay between muscle mass and joint health is crucial, and if you don’t maintain strong muscles around your knees, you’re more prone to injury and pain. Moreover, this link is especially critical given the rising prevalence of knee osteoarthritis among aging adults.

Understanding the knee-osteoarthritis connection

Knee osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition leading to pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility [2]. 

While weight-bearing activities like jogging or tennis are crucial for maintaining overall health, they can become risk factors when your knee muscles aren’t strong enough. 

Running, for instance, subjects your knees to impacts twice your body weight or more. Without adequate muscle strength to cushion these impacts, the stress can lead to cartilage damage and, eventually, osteoarthritis.

Research findings on physical activity and knee health

A recent cohort study involving over 5,000 participants from the Rotterdam Study found a significant connection between weight-bearing physical activities and the risk of developing knee osteoarthritis, but only among those with low lower-limb muscle mass (LMI). 

Individuals in the lowest third of muscle mass had a 53% increased risk of developing knee osteoarthritis from high-impact activities​​ [1].

Key takeaways from the research

  • Weight-bearing activities: Weight-bearing exercises like running and walking can increase osteoarthritis risk if muscle mass is low.
  • Non-weight-bearing activities: Activities such as swimming don’t increase knee osteoarthritis risk.
  • LMI’s Role: A higher LMI can protect your knees from the damaging effects of high-impact activities.

What can you do to mitigate the risks? 

  1. Strength training: Focus on exercises that build and maintain muscle mass around your knees, like squats and leg presses.
  2. Low-impact cardio: Incorporate swimming or cycling into your routine to stay active without putting extra stress on your knees.
  3. Stretch and warm-up: Prepare your muscles before any exercise to reduce the risk of strain.

Maintaining strong lower-limb muscles is essential for protecting your knees against osteoarthritis. Weight-bearing activities can be beneficial, but the risk of injury rises significantly without proper muscle mass

Consider integrating a balanced mix of strength training and low-impact exercises to support your knees. In doing so, you’ll be on the path to joint health and sustained mobility.

[1] https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2818066
[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507884/

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