Mind Games 2.0

Bloggin' 'bout science and life

Bad Knees

I’ve always had bad knees.  I was a baseball catcher in my youth.  I had my knee torn up in high school football.  So I always expected to get old and creaky as I aged.  And I have.

I’ve also been a runner since college.  I have run 3-4 days a week since I was 20.  So it was very disappointing to me a few years ago (when I was 46), when I was told that I had some good areas of cartilage missing from my knee joints.  Over my entire running history, my knees felt much better when I was running on a regular schedule.  Living in Michigan and then in New Hampshire, winter would come, and my knees would hurt, because I couldn’t get out and run.  Then in the spring, after a few weeks of getting back in shape, they were fine again.

In addition, about 8 years ago, my knees started hurting every time I would sit for prolonged periods.  I stopped wanting to go to movies and lectures and car rides, because at the end, I knew that my I would have shooting pains through my knees.  Every time I got out of the car, I could barely walk.

So it was very disheartening a couple of years ago when the orthopedist told me that I should stop running, so that I would stop damaging my knees. I took her advice to heart and stopped running, but my knees didn’t stop hurting.

Even though I stopped running and started biking for exercise, my knees still hurt.  However, I started to notice if I sat with my legs straight out, my knees didn’t hurt.  So being a scientist, I started an experiment on myself this spring.

The experiment was to test whether it was sitting with bent legs that was the real problem causing my knee pain.  Sure I have cartilage spots missing, my knees always felt good after running, and my knees always hurt after sitting.  So I simply strarted sitting with my legs as straight out as possible.  RIding in the car, I put the seat back as far as possible to get my legs as straight as possible.

My first little knee adventure in this experiment was driving from New Hampshire to New Jersey this spring.  I drove the entire way with my legs completely straight.   Everytime I stopped to get gas — NO PAIN!!  Well, no pain in my knees.  😉

After this great success — no pain all the way to New Jersey and back — I decided I was onto something.   I sat with legs out straight everywhere and no pain any day.  Then this summer — the ultimate test — a driving trip to Iowa and back. No pain all the way there and back!

So I’m back from Iowa, and I tried to go out running one morning.   My knees felt great!!  So I waited a couple of days, and went again.  It’s been two weeks now, and my knees feel great!

So my advice if you have bad knees, it’s the sitting!  Find a position for sitting that don’t make your knees lock up.  This simply inflames the tissue.  And get out and run!



Is my graying hair adaptive?


  1. Chris Larabell, Both knees hurt in the spring time… After reading your post, I will try it!!!

    I broke my femer at 7 years old. It was almost 6 months before I could actually walk again on my own. Had to re-learn everything after traction… Since high school (Junior Year 1993) I can remember knee pain, usually in the spring. I remember one day my right knee hurt so bad I took a break from typing. My teacher asked me to please do my work and I explained my problem with my knee’s, she replied “we all have our aches and pains, now do your typing assignment”. My response was very colorful to say the least and I walked out of her class never to return. Fortunately, I had another nice teacher whom let me spend (2) hours a day inher class as long as I continued to show improvment and help other students after my assignments were finished. Since that time, I started travelling a lot in 1997 for work. I remember times being on a plane (also in the spring time) and having to stretch out to almost a standing position because there was not enough room to stretch my legs. If my knees are bent for more than 10 minutes, they need to be straightened. As well, if they are straight for more thean ten minutes they need to be bent to releive the ever building pressure inside pushing out in all directions under my knee cap. I can vividly remember in 1996 working for a small engine repair shop and not being able to stand. The shop was cement with brick walls, very cool and damp all the time. I was on a piece of cardboard changing blades under a riding lawn mower, when I tried to get up I could not. I tried and tried and my knees where in so much pain that I could not muster up enough strength to overcome the pain. I crawled over to my large tool box, grabbed the drawers and pulled myself back up onto my feet, I then sat on the bench next to my tool box with my legs dangling and had my lunch and a short break. For the rest of that day and more after, I was sure not to get down on the floor for anything! I’d even use the chainfall to stand those tractors up on their back ends to be able to reach right in and remove the blades for sharpening. Again, this was spring time. Everyone needed to have their mowers tunes up and I did a lot of blade sharpening for the community during that time of year. Moving onto my next job, my wife and I were shopping for a new car in 2001, I remember specifically testing the drivers seat in the all the way back position to ensure I could fully extend my legs up under the pedals if I had a pain spell while driving to work on my one hour commute. Same thing would happen as on a plane, there were some days I specifically remember having my right leg extended to the passenger side of the car while I drove with my left foot. It always seemed that while the pain in my right knee is at 100% my left would be about 80%. Which makes sence as my right knee has had to compinsate for my left leg problems since the age of 7. I still walk a little funny, one leg is about 1/2″ longer than the other which makes me slightly drop to the right when I step with my right leg. Last night (2009) I stepped to my right leg and piveted so far to the right that I cought my shoulder on the door frame and got a pretty good srape from the impact. Note, I started typing this about ten minutes ago with my legs bent to the floor sitting normally. I just had to straighten them to releive the pressue built up. Also now in 2009, I can cope with the car ride to work as it is only about 7-10 minutes of a ride. Being close to home and working at a desk throughout most of the day, I enjoy not being trapped in a vehicle with no hope of stretching for a pre-designated amount of time.

  2. My knee problem is not nearly as bad as both of you but I too have quite a bit of trouble with both knees. Any time I undergo strenuous exercise that require me to bend my knee repetitively I can hear a strange sound every time it bends and after a couple of times it hurts a lot. Running poses no problem but squat and similar exercise is no longer possible.

  3. Are you still finding the straight leg thing to work? I am going to try this myself to see if it alleviates knee pain. I would never have thougt that sitting with bent knees could be the problem. So glad I happened across your blog. Cheers.

  4. I work out regularly at a fixed weight gym and find that squats can make my knees quite sore for a few hours. My trainer says this is natural. I put my knees to their ultimate test last month walking down Snowdon mountain in Wales and I knew about if for days!

  5. This is my experience exactly. I am so happy to read your story, because none of the doctors or fysiotherapists have given me any advice on sitting postures which are right for my knee. I had a skiing accident 8 months ago, and as a result I had cracks in my meniscus and quite badly damaged cartlidge. After about 5 months I slowly gained mobility in my knee again, but it still feels stiff most of the time. After 6 months there were more and more times in which the stiffness disappeared. Most of those moments were during my holiday, in which period I did a lot of walking, cycling and a bit of swimming, and I even learned to run again on a tredmill, though at very short intervals. As I sat down on a chair in the evening, the stiffness came back. When I started working again a month ago the situation got worse again. No real pain, but the overall stiffness returned. In the evening I watch television sitting on the floor with my knees stretched. I never knew why, but it just felt better. As the stiffness returned, running on the treadmill became more difficult again, and now I am scared to damage my cartligde any further, so I stopped altogether. From now on I will try to limit the amount of sitting with bent knees. If the result is satisfying, I will gradually start running again, and get some more action in those legs again. I am a 37-year old woman and hope to live a long, healthy and vibrant life with a lot of sport. The last few months have been hell…! /c: I also want to advice people with any cartlidge problems to eat healty foods: lots of fruit and vegetables, and a low intake of sugar, or any kind of food that increases the acidity in the body. On top of that I take glucosamine supplements, hoping the cartlidge will gradually restore itself again.

  6. I have had a similar problem which arose after an overload in a hiking. A heavy backpack, dragging heavy stones, stone jungle. I lost 11 pounds and after the hiking decided to consolidate the success by vegetarian meals + tea and coffee without sugar. This diet was a mistake – my knees began to ache. I started reading about the problem and found out some interesting facts:
    Metabolic half time of the cartilage of joints – 20 years. Actively share the cartilage cells stop in 16-18 years. In the articular cartilage is absent circulatory network. And all nutrition, all communication is carried out only through the synovial fluid. This fluid nourishes the cartilage and serves as a lubricant. The only way cartilage cells nutrition – through passive osmosis and through mechanical transfer of motion of the joint. If the joint is immobilized – nutrition of the cartilage is absent. With prolonged absence of movement (eg fractures) complete immobility of the joint – ankylosis may develop. That is, for a normal life of the joint cartilage the movement is needed. The load on the joint cartilage activates cell division and their activity.
    The basic building blocks for the construction of structural components of cartilage are amino acids and glucose (fructose). Fructose-6-phosphate, in collaboration with glutamine produce cartilage glucosamine. From glucosamine and glucose in the cells of cartilage formed hyaluronic acid and chondroitin sulfates. Amino acids are used for the synthesis of collagen and elastin of the joints.
    It turns out that all the nutrition of the cartilage is reduced to the nonessential amino acids and glucose. So a vegetarian diet and abstinence from sugar overload after the joints can be dangerous.
    Note also that with age significantly decreases protein digestibility.

    When I realized the situation – began to eat gelatin *, hash ** and to drink tea and coffee with sugar. 50 grams of gelatin powder mixed with 150 ml of yogurt or buttermilk or thick peach juice and eat it immediately (1-2 times a day). After switching to a diet, my problem with his knee was gone. Gradually began to walk long hours and no longer use the elevator.
    * Gelatin can be eaten in large quantities – it does not contain tryptophan and dihydroxyphenylalanine, which in excess can be dangerous.
    ** About khash. The main ingredient in khash is cow’s feet or sheep’s feet. The feet are depilated, cleaned, kept in cold water in order to get rid of bad smell, and boiled in water all night long, until the water has become a thick broth and the meat has separated from the bones. Fat is removed from top of broth. Add salt, garlic and hot peppers. Khash is generally served with a variety of other foods, such as pickles, radishes, cheese, and fresh greens such as cress.

    Vyacheslav L. Kalmykov, PhD (Biology)

  7. li shin

    i was an amateur cyclist when young, and bad form has weakened my knees. I’m 40 now and i took up bare foot running a year ago and that has helped my knees tremendously. bare foot running forces you to land on the balls of your foot, not the heel. it also causes all your running joints, toes, ankle, knees and hips, to bend more. also, it develops muscles you would otherwise not use when running straight legged and heel landing. it is the proper strengthening of your leg muscles that help move stress away from joints, and also to allow the joints to move in a more natural position. give it a try, but it does take time, say 3 – 6 mths at the very least. good luck !

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