Stiffness is a common symptom of almost any bone or joint ailment, whether it be an injury or a chronic condition. Frankly, the aging human body would like nothing better than to curl up in the fetal position and stay there for a while, especially if injured or in pain. Think about it…who stretches out when they have a tummy ache, or when we hide, or if someone is attacking us? We curl up in a ball. It’s almost a reflex.
When our bones, muscles and joints hurt, we tend to flex the muscles that surround the sore area. As time goes by, and we remain in that position, we get closer to developing a contracture. This happens when you sprain your finger. You will tend to keep it in a flexed position, and suddenly, you have a hard time straightening it.
When you develop knee arthritis, there is a tendency to walk and rest with your knee in a slightly bent position. It feels better, and a little more stable when bent. Soon you just learn to hobble around in that bent-knee position. And for every action, there is a reaction. After a while your other knee compensates. Who is going to walk with one knee bent and the other straight? Try it. Nope. You’re going to learn a new party walk. The bent-knee gait. And then try to walk with two bent knees, while keeping your back and hips straight. Can’t do it. Pretty soon, you’re flexed over, and guess what! You’re walking like your grandparents did…like you said you never would!
Here’s my recommendation. When you wake up one day with aching or swelling in your knee…do whatever it is you might think about doing for that. Ice. Heat. NSAIDS. Tylenol. Rest. Call the doctor. But add straighten that knee to the list. Don’t waste any time trying to do this.
- Put your heel on an ottoman or table, and let that leg be a bridge, pushing the knee straight with your muscles, your hand or a heavy ice pack on top of the knee.
- Don’t sit around for hours at a time with your knee flopped over to the side, in that comfortable bent position. Straighten it out every once in a while.
- Try to walk for short periods of time, while slowly and deliberately extending the knee if you can.
- Slow down! It’s so much easier to walk with a bent knee when you’re in a hurry. It becomes habit.
- Practice heel-toe walking down a hall in your home or at work. Take a step forward. Deliberately put your heel down first. Try to straighten the knee. Then, roll over on to the ball of your foot.
- Use a cane or hiking stick if you need to. Don’t sacrifice extension for pride or a limp.
If you’re unable to make that knee go straight, then it might be time to see your favorite orthopod!