What Are 9 Ways That You Can Ruin Your Knees?

Medically Reviewed on 11/16/2021
Knee problems are typically caused by general wear and tear from daily activities, although injuries and osteoarthritis could also be responsible.
Knee problems are typically caused by general wear and tear from daily activities, although injuries and osteoarthritis could also be responsible.

The knee is the largest joint in the body and one of the most common sites of injury. Nearly all our actions—like walking, turning, running, and jumping—depend on the knees for movement and stability. Unfortunately, as people are living longer and more active lives, damage to the knees is also becoming increasingly common.  

Knee pain can keep you from enjoying the activities you love and can even lower your quality of life significantly. Knee problems are typically caused by general wear and tear from daily activities, although injuries and osteoarthritis could also be responsible.

Common knee problems

Constant stress or trauma to the knee joint can lead to a variety of issues over time. The most common knee problems include:

  • Sprained or strained knee ligaments and/or muscles: This is generally caused by a sudden twist of the knee. 
  • Torn cartilage: The connective tissue at the knee is damaged because of trauma or injury.
  • Tendonitis: This is a result of inflamed or damaged tendons, which are tissues connecting muscle to bone.
  • Arthritis: Osteoarthritis regularly affects middle-aged and older people.

If you don't learn how to take care of your knees, you can unintentionally cause them a lot of damage in the long run. Here are 9 familiar ways you might be ruining your knees:

Ignoring knee pain

Occasional knee pain is quite common, but you need to know when you can ignore it and when you cannot. A good rule of thumb is that if it affects your ability to walk or sit, you should get in touch with a healthcare professional. You might also need to see a doctor about mild knee pain if it persists for over a week. If you experience acute knee pain, try managing the symptoms with ice packs and compression bandages.

Being overweight or obese

The knee is a critical joint that supports most of your body weight when you're upright. It acts as both a shock absorber and a stabilizer. The more you weigh, the more pressure is placed on your knees. It is estimated that a force of nearly three to six times the body weight is applied on the knee while walking. This means that being only 10 pounds overweight can increase the force on the knee by 30 to 60 pounds. As a result, the knees wear out much faster than expected.

Wearing non-supportive or ill-fitting shoes

This is perhaps the most common way people damage their knees. Shoes with good arch support are crucial for relieving some of the pressure on your knees. High heels, flip flops, and other flat shoes can worsen knee pain and damage the joints. Wearing well-sized, supportive shoes, in contrast, distributes your body weight and reduces the force your knees experience with each step.


Exercises for Knee Osteoarthritis and Joint Pain See Slideshow

Not warming up or cooling down when you exercise

Warm-up and cool-down exercises are essential for protecting the knee from injury and can even ease knee pain. They prepare the knee joint and surrounding muscles to take on the strain and impact of exercise. These gentle exercises strengthen leg muscles and decrease the tension in your tendons. This will ultimately improve knee mobility and flexibility.

Neglecting rehab and rest

All knee injuries, minor or severe, should be treated with proper rest and rehabilitation. If you don't follow through with the advised treatment method, you can make your pain worse and risk a more serious injury. It is important to work with a physical therapist, a sports medicine physician, or an orthopedic surgeon if you regularly engage in high-intensity activities. A good recovery plan will gradually return your knees to full capacity.

Engaging in high-impact activities without ACL training

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is a band of tissue at the knee that connects the thighbone to the shinbone. It's one of the most commonly injured ligaments in the knee: responsible for about 150,000 injuries every year in the U.S. alone. Athletes who play sports involving quick cuts, twists, and jumping are at the highest risk of an ACL tear. Damage to the ACL can be prevented, though, by implementing targeted strength training.

Overlooking other muscles around the knees

The muscles surrounding the knee provide primary support to the joint. They absorb some of the stress exerted on the knee and improve overall flexibility. If you regularly take part in activities that require a lot of knee movement, make sure you train the surrounding muscles too. Strong and elastic muscles help keep the knee stable and balanced.

Overdoing it

Knee performance can be greatly impaired if the knee is regularly strained without allowing for rest and recovery. The most common overuse injuries include tendonitis and kneecap pain. While staying active and maintaining an exercise routine is good for overall health, overdoing it takes a toll on the knees. Pushing yourself too hard weakens the tissues surrounding the knees and reduces mobility.

Resting too much

At the other extreme, a completely sedentary lifestyle will also damage your knees. Without any physical activity, your muscles will weaken over time. Sitting or laying down for long periods of time could also make existing knee pain worse. Gentle exercises like walking, swimming, or cycling, in contrast, can help strengthen the knee joint.

Medically Reviewed on 11/16/2021

Evans, J., Nielson, J. Anterior Cruciate Ligament Knee Injuries, StatPearls Publishing, 2021.

Johns Hopkins Medicine: " Knee Pain and Problems."

The Journal of rheumatology: "Weight and osteoarthritis."

The National Health Service: "Knee exercises for runners."