Saturday, February 5, 2011

"What Should I Do If I Have 'Weak' Knees?"

As I promised a while back, occasionally I'll lift a "story" from the comment section and turn it into a blog post. Today is the first installment of that occasional series. For the umpteenth time, I'm not a doctor or physical therapist, so I'll just offer "things to think about" and "observations from my own experience beating knee pain and researching knee injuries." Other readers with insights (which may be much better than mine) are welcome to chime in (my comments section is completely open).

I strongly believe in patients becoming smarter about their knees and pain symptoms so that they are equipped to ask good, incisive, challenging questions of the medical professionals that examine them. That's what I'd like to help people with: getting smart enough to ask some good questions.

So without further ado, here is Anonymous complaining of "weak knees":
Have you or anyone had just "weak knees?" For over 7 years, I have had this issue and have seen a variety of doctors, multitude of tests, physical therapy and still...same old..same old thing. I was wearing a rocker type shoe from Kmart for about 6 months and my weakness went away, but...then my feet started to tingle and get sore from them. It became too tried the Sketcher brand and the weakness came back. So now, I am back to a good pair of running shoes with good support wit weak knees. I am considering on seeking out another orthopedic surgeon's thoughts, but...because I am not in pain they feel nothing is wrong. If I wear knee supports the feeling goes away, but in several days, I get tingling in my feet. One doctor thought that since my knees are OK with supports that by realigning and tightening the knee cap, the problem would be solved. I should be happy that I don't have pain...but...a weakness all day can be just as brutal. No medication works on manage through the day. When I relax at home on the couch, the feeling will go away in about an hour and then the problem starts all over again the next day.
I found this case interesting mainly because of the vagueness of the complaint: "weak" knees. Notice as well the comment "because I am not in pain they (doctors) feel nothing is wrong."

First, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that, even though nothing is currently wrong, I bet Weak Knees (Anonymous, this is your moniker for the rest of this post :)) isn't that far away from having problems. The fact that something in your body feels amiss is often a softly blinking red warning light. Before my knee issues flared up, I was having twinges in my right knee while cycling uphill. I would adjust my stroke briefly, easing up, then the sensation would go away. So I continued to ride as hard as before, thinking (wrongly) that the problem would eventually just fix itself.

Second, I'm going to put on my swami hat and surmise a few things about Weak Knees. I could be wrong about all three speculations, but let me list them and explain my thinking:

1. There is a good chance Weak Knees is overweight.
2. There is a good chance Weak Knees leads an inactive lifestyle.
3. The physical therapy that Weak Knees did was directed at muscle-strengthening and not at improving aerobic capacity.

Again, I could be completely wrong about all three points, especially because there is so little information given about what "weak knees" means exactly. Do the knees feel like they are about to give way? Do the knees feel like they offer poor support for ordinary daily activities, such as squatting or kneeling? Do they ache at all? Or after climbing a few flights of stairs, does Weak Knees just not feel that good?

The vagueness of this self-diagnosis intrigues me, however. Much of my life I have enjoyed a sporting lifestyle. That means I have spent a lot of time with people who enjoy a similar lifestyle.

And when they have pain in one of their joints, such as the knee or spine, they describe it in a variety of manners, but "weak" is generally not one of them.

Symptoms of diffuse weakness I associate with people who tend to be overweight and out of shape. Excess weight is probably the worst thing I can think of for someone seeking to recover from knee pain or avoid it in the future. That extra fat means your knees have to work much harder to move your body around. That weight discourages you from moving in general. And, I think on some level, being overweight makes people more susceptible to "general malaise" type of disorders.

The best kind of exercise, I'm convinced at the grand age of 49, is something that gets your heart beating without your body taking a beating. That isn't meant to dismiss the benefits of running. I don't believe the myths that knees just wear out from all the pounding of running and inevitably become arthritic, though that may be true for runners who don't watch their weight or who run carelessly (e.g., who take off four months, then try to resume at the level they were at previously without building up their training). But if you've got knee joint issues, cycling (or swimming, or walking) may be a more suitable activity.

If I were Weak Knees, knowing that my joints were just weak and not hurting, I'd first drop onto my weak knees and praise the Lord I've got some time to sort out any issues before the curtain of pain descends :). Then I would talk to my doctor about what aerobic activity might be good for me that would help strengthen the knee joint and improve my cardiovascular fitness. You'd have to start slow, if you've been inactive, but exercise -- SWEATING exercise -- does a body much, much good. It's like acquiring a protective invisible force field against future knee damage (and I have yet to meet a cyclist who's complained of weak knees). I wouldn't waste a minute looking into this.

One last note: if my analysis above is anywhere close to correct, I would NOT have surgery to try to correct this condition. Surgery is generally best considered a last resort for non-specific knee pain. But again, Anonymous, talk to a qualified doctor about this.


  1. I am that person with weak knees. I am 5'10' and weigh about 135 lbs. I was always been active...riding my bicycle, cross-country ski, enjoyed working out in the yard...and 8 or so years ago, I started to feel a weakness in both knees. Started to workout and it seemed to help a bit. time transpired, nothing seemed to work. As the day progresses, my knees start to feel weak. Through these years, I have seen 3 different P.T.'s and they are uncertain about my condition. When I work Kmart rocker shoes, by weakness went away..but still had tingling in the feet. Went to a shoe store and was told that my 8 1/2 shoes should be 11 B. So....I went that direction and tingling went away, but...they had me wear their shoe orthotic over the insole to take up room. I started to supinate and ended up with nerve pain. So...I had to get orthotics and scrap the rocker shoes. I have tried several orthotics and have not found one yet that has helped me. While I was being fitted with one...they were trying to fit the orthotic with the shoe vs. my foot. And, during that course, I first had no weak knees, but by the time the removed much of the original support, the weakness returned in my knees. If I go home and crash out for an hour or so, the weakness will go away. When I wake up, I am OK..but..then the day starts all over again.

    1. Good to hear from you again. So you're obviously neither overweight or inactive! However the big mystery with you has a semantic twist: what exactly does "weak" mean? I too had "weak" knees, but they burned and ached. Yours, however, have no symptoms? They're just "weak" but they're not unstable right? If they're not unstable and they aren't symptomatic, I'm kind of puzzled in what way they bother you. No burning, no aching, no pain, no discomfort -- I feel like there's part of the picture here I'm not seeing. Anyway, I may blog about your case again, because it certainly sounds interesting. Cheers!

  2. Hello. I to am 5'10,im 153 and also have problems with week knees. I have been to several doctors, pt's, and massage therapy. None of which on there own helped. However I learned enough to make a reasonable self diagnosis. I will bet that because you are skinny (like me) you have poor posture and that you sit a lot. If so your problem is in your lower back L1,L2,L3 region.I sit a lot at work and have found that the pressure on the lumbar causes me to unknowingly cross my legs thus putting pressure on the knee. Also when standing for long periods to offset the lumbar problem you will unknowingly lock your knees back. All of this leads to stretching of the ligaments in the side of the knee giving you that week uneasy feeling.This is what I have found that helps if done daily over a long period. Lay face down on the floor, arms straight out in front of you, keep your hips on the floor push up with your arms until you feel the curve in the small of your spine. If im correct this will be uncomfortable at first. Hold that position for say a 10 count and lay back down. Do this for three or for sets three times a day if you can. This will help align the lumbar and stretch out those muscles which should help you get your body back in balance thus alleviating the extra stress on your knees. I hope this helps you! I know how you feel.

  3. In my case, the xrays showed healthy knees. It wasnt until doctors did the MRI that they saw i did have torn meniscus(i) in both knees etc. So dont just settle for a first diagnosis without MRI.

  4. I am 23 year old and I have weak knees after my ankle got twisted while i was doing zumba. Those days i would workout twice a day. I don't know the exact reason but i am unable to do any form of workout for more than an hour now. Knees would give up. There is always a crackling and crushing sound when i move.
    I went to a local doctor. He prescribed me with Coercip and Lubridol and suggest a few exercises. I am continuing my workout but knees wont feel any better. Please help
    I cant be sure if this is due to ankel or over exercising or both. There could be many reasons. i am just really worried. Please help

    1. You may want to see a different doctor and scale back your activities (and choose a workout that is more joint friendly -- swimming or easy cycling or slow walking?). Generally I avoid giving advice, especially when I sense that someone is in a bad spot and really needs the help of a medical professional who can examine that person firsthand. You can read around this blog; you may find some useful ideas. Take care, and best of luck!

  5. Hi Richard, this is all the way from INDIA. Some docs day its an artritis and some say my cartilage is just worn out and will regrow. I am suffering from knee pain as yours(quirky sound when i fold) from past an year. I have anyway ordered your second edition book. But share me some tips as i am suffering a lot with the kneee pain.Whenever i climb stairs my knee hurts badly. i am just 36 years old and wasnna get rid of this....i am fighting it by going for a walk.Appreciate your response as am very impressed by your story.

  6. Thanks for your kind words. By the way, you may want to spend some time looking around the blog (search for "success stories," as you may be able to pick up some good tips there).

    It's always tough when you have bad pain going up stairs. That's usually a sign that stair climbing is outside your envelope of function. So if there's a way to avoid/minimize stairs, you may want to think about doing so. Or is there a way to use a cane/stick to take the load off your knees when you climb stairs?

    The more that small things bother your knees, the weaker your knees probably are. So you may have to start out really slow. You may want to look up Doug Kelsey on Google; he knows some very simple movement exercises that don't stress knee joints that much. You may need to start there and slowly build.

    It can be a long process. Don't give up hope! Thanks for dropping by, and stop in again and let us all know how you're doing.