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Physically Demanding Jobs Can Lead to Knee Problems Later in Life—Here’s How to Deal

Rachel Lapidos

Rachel LapidosAugust 12, 2020

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Your knees are the largest joint in your body, and they’re in charge of so many of your movements. And new research suggests that those who perform physically demanding jobs are more prone to developing osteoarthritis in the knees—which proves that taking care of the knee joint health is essential to longevity.

The finding, which was published in Arthritis Care and Research, came from a review of 71 studies that looked at over 951,000 participants, some of which had more sedentary occupations while others had active ones (jobs that involve lots of kneeling, standing, walking, and heavy lifting). Those who worked in physically demanding jobs were 52 percent more likely to develop knee osteoarthritis than those who weren’t as active in their jobs.

With any kind of osteoarthritis, you’re dealing with inflammation of a bone and joint capsule. Pete McCall, MS, a strength coach and Voltaren Arthritis Pain Gel spokesperson, says that your joints are protected by cartilage, which acts as a sort of shock absorber. It naturally breaks down as you age and through movement, which is when your joints begin to connect to one another, which can result in pain.

According to McCall, there’s a difference between exercising and moving throughout your entire workday that explains the osteoarthritis risk. “Exercise stimulates the production of collagen, which is an important component of cartilage,” he says. “But if you move over a prolonged period of time, not doing a specific exercise, that cartilage just breaks down over time. Exercise produces new cells that can repair damaged muscle tissue and keep your body running a little more efficiently while being physical in your job puts a lot of wear and tear on the body.”

Since this kind of physical activity—from standing to walking and kneeling—is simply a standard in so many occupations, it’s incredibly important to take care of your knee joint. “You really need to take good care of it so that your knees can last a lifetime,” says McCall. “If you don’t pay attention to them, that’s where you can get your cartilage breaking down.” Keep scrolling for expert-approved tips on boosting your knee joint health.

How to maintain and improve your knee joint health

1. Strength training: “Do two to three strength-training sessions a week that feature exercises for the glutes and core,” says McCall. This ensures that your surrounding muscles are strong and can help absorb impact.

2. Wear proper footwear: According to Chad Beauchamp, DPT, physical therapist and founder of Repair Sports Institute, your footwear plays a big role in your knee health. “Wear orthotics when needed,” he says. Otherwise, make sure that if you’re on your feet all day, you have enough support in your shoes.

3. Work on your circulation: Dr. Beauchamp also says that blood flow is crucial for the health of your joints. He recommends doing this via percussion massage therapy (with a Hypervolt or Theragun), cupping, or compression.

4. Stretching: Stretching is important for any active regimen, but it also plays a role in your joint health. Dr. Beauchamp says that hip and leg stretching in particular can help with your knees.

5. Nutrition: What you put on your plate can also lead to healthier, stronger joints, says Dr. Beauchamp. Studies have found that vitamin K and omega-3 fats are especially important for a bone-healthy diet. Besides that, Dr. Beauchamp suggests lowering your consumption of inflammatory foods (think sugar, processed food, and dairy).

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