How to Modify Activities When You Have Bad Knees

Medicare Benefits Solutions
Apr 18, 2022

Mild, occasional aches in your knees can be a source of annoyance or discomfort, but when you have chronic, severe knee pain, you may experience a loss of mobility and movement that may affect your overall mental and physical health. If you’re having knee pain, you should talk to your physician. Before turning to medications or surgery, your doctor will likely suggest changes in your lifestyle that may help reduce inflammation and pain.

Chronic Knee Pain

Bad knee pain is a frequent complaint, and it’s not restricted to people in specific age groups. A painful sensation may begin suddenly, caused by exercise or injury, or you may initially have mild discomfort that develops into a throbbing pain over time. Causes of bad knees can be attributed to various medical conditions, injuries and instances of overuse.

According to the MedlinePlus/National Library of Medicine, you are more susceptible to having bad knees if you are overweight, overextend during exercise or have a history of arthritis. Medical conditions associated with bad knees include arthritis, cysts, bone cancer, and knee bone or joint infection. Injuries and overuse may lead to bursitis, dislocation, fracture, torn ligaments or cartilage, and strains or sprains.

Although arthritis in older adults is not uncommon, the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) reports that orthopaedists see a growing number of people in their 40s and 50s with knee arthritis. “Aging boomers and an escalating obesity rate mean that orthopaedists should expect to treat record numbers of patients for this debilitating condition.”

How to Know if You Have Bad Knees

We all have aches and pains now and then, so you may not be sure how to know if you have bad knees. It’s best to consult with your doctor or a specialist if:

  • Your knee joint looks deformed
  • Walking becomes painful and causes you to limp
  • You find yourself shifting your weight away from the sore knee when standing
  • You feel wobbly when you walk
  • You lose sensation or range of motion in your knee
  • The pain interferes with your daily living or ability to sleep
  • Your knee becomes red, swollen, or tender to the touch

What to Do for Bad Knees

Conventional wisdom for bad knee pain caused by an arthritis flare-up or a minor injury is rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE). It can be difficult to ask for help, but try to give your body an opportunity to take a break from any activity that may cause more stress on your knees. If you have family or friends nearby, let someone know you could use an extra hand around the house if need be.

When you exercise, protect your knees with a warmup and cooldown. A warm-up brings fluid into the joints and widens your blood vessels, delivering oxygen to your working muscles. A cool down and stretch are essential for flexibility and reducing soreness. The best exercises for bad knees are low-impact activities like swimming, water aerobics, walking, yoga, tai chi and stationary cycling. These exercises can also improve your balance and coordination.

As a temporary measure, ask your doctor about knee gel injections. This non-invasive approach supplements the lubricating fluid (synovial fluid) secreted by your joints, increasing your freedom of movement. Medicare coverage includes medically necessary knee gel injections every six months if you have osteoarthritis in the knee.

Exercises for Bad Knees

Knee pain may make you fear exercise, but staying active reaps benefits both physically and mentally. Avoiding activity can lead to stiffness and muscle atrophy. When your knees are tight, pain increases. The key is learning how to exercise with bad knees to avoid further injury. Following are suggestions on modifying activities.

1. Walking instead of running can ease your pain, increase range of motion and lower your risk of more injury. Running puts more stress on your joints and is overall more physically demanding.

2. Recumbent cycling instead of conventional biking enables you to reduce strain while strengthening your calves, thighs and gluteal muscles. Recumbent bikes also have seats that are lower and wider than traditional bikes, helping you feel more balanced and comfortable.

3. Low-resistance circuit training instead of high impact training like boot camp alleviates stress on knee joints. Rather than push ups, sit-ups, full squats and lunges, try half squats, calf raises, hamstring curls and leg extensions.

4. Using a cushioned treadmill versus walking on cement sidewalks and other hard surfaces helps you avoid the high impact and reduce the amount of force that places excessive strain on your joints. A treadmill with a supportive cushion improves stability and balance.

5. Taking the elevator instead of walking up and down the stairs may be necessary while experiencing symptoms. However, if you cannot avoid the stairs, lead with the least bothersome leg, use the staircase handrail, place your foot fully on each step, push up from the heel and wear supportive shoes.

Does Medicare Cover Knee Replacement Surgery?

Once you discuss how to fix bad knees with your doctor, your next step will probably be to check your Medicare benefits to determine what is covered. Doctor visits will be covered by Part B as long as you see a physician that accepts assignment. If you’re enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, you may have to visit your primary care physician to get a referral to an orthopaedist. You may also have to see providers within the plan’s network.

If you plan to have knee replacement surgery, your orthopedic surgeon will determine whether you need to be admitted to the hospital or have the procedure in an outpatient setting. Medicare covers inpatient surgery under Part A and outpatient procedures under Part B.

As an inpatient, you are responsible for the Part A deductible. For outpatient surgery, you are responsible to the facility for the Part B deductible and copayment. The Part B deductible and coinsurance applies to your doctor’s fees, in or out of the hospital.

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