Why Women Have More Knee Problems (And What You Can Do About It)

November 29, 2018 Updated: November 29, 2018

If you have creaky, painful knees, you’re not alone.

In the United States, an estimated 31 million adults have osteoarthritis (OA), according to the Arthritis Foundation. Women are far more likely (than men) to suffer the pain of OA as they get older, especially in the knees, statistics show.

However, just like other health issues that loom over us, there’s plenty that women can do to offset that risk. It’s all about making the right choices. In fact, new research shows that women can help protect their knees from greater damage by taking a high-grade chondroitin supplement.

First, the basics about OA:

Osteoarthritis is a condition that affects cartilage, the rubbery cushion covering bones in the joints to keep them flexible. Over time, the cartilage begins to stiffen and damages more easily, gradually losing its shock absorber qualities. The bones start rubbing against each other which creates the pain.

Why Are Women More Prone to Knee Osteoarthritis?

Partly, women’s high risk is due to biology. Women’s bodies are designed for birth, so tendons in their lower body are more flexible than men’s. Therefore, the joints move around a little more—and with less stability, there’s greater risk of injury.

Also, women’s hips are wider than their knees, so the knee joints are not aligned as straight as men’s. This leads to knee injuries, as well as osteoarthritis.

The risk of OA goes up as women get older. Experts have found that the estrogen hormone protects cartilage from inflammation, which can cause osteoarthritis. After menopause, when a woman’s estrogen level goes down, she loses that protection and may have a higher risk of developing osteoarthritis.

In fact, researchers report that lower estrogen levels are associated with a greater production of bone-destroying cells. Changes in the synovial fluid, which surrounds the joints and protects cartilage, occur more dramatically in older women than in men, according to their study in Scientific Reports.

What Can You Do to Control Pain & Protect Your Knees?

Pain is the biggest problem with knee OA, and lifestyle changes (including weight loss) are the first steps in controlling the pain.

Every time you gain an extra pound, you add three pounds of pressure to your knee. This leads to cartilage breakdown. Also, women who are in menopause tend to have more belly fat, which puts more pressure on the lower joints.

Change Your Eating Habits

When we’re super-busy, healthy eating can take a backseat. To lose weight you’ve got to be realistic. If you lose even 10 pounds, you reduce the load on your knee joints—and reduce risk of further joint injury. You also improve your mobility, so you can more easily get out and exercise.

Make healthy eating a priority. Do a little online research about healthy eating. Make a plan to change your habits—one meal at a time. Eat more fruit, veggies and lean protein, and less fast food. Pack a lunch. Quit buying (and eating) snack foods.

Get Out & Get Active

You know it’s true—if you want to lose weight, you’ve got to exercise. When you exercise you also increase your flexibility, improve your mood, boost your blood flow, and strengthen your heart.

If knee pain is an issue, give swimming or water aerobics a try. Cycling is also easy on the knees, and most communities have bike paths you can enjoy. Talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program if you’ve been sedentary. Then make it a priority to stay active.

Boost Bone Strength with Vitamin Supplements

To improve bone strength, it’s wise to take vitamin D (400 IU daily) and calcium (1,000-1,200 mg daily). Vitamins C and E also help protect bones.

Protect Your Joints with Chondroitin Supplements

Prevent further damage to your knees by protecting them. That starts with protecting the cartilage that covers your knee joints. When cartilage starts to wear thin, the pain starts. And, as you get older, your body produces less enzyme that preserves a critical substance in your cartilage, called chondroitin.

Taking a high-quality chondroitin supplement daily enhances the protection of the joint cartilage, helping protect the joints and bones. A study in the British Medical Journal found that taking 800 mg/day pharmaceutical-grade chondroitin sulfate is superior to placebo and similar to celecoxib (a prescription painkiller) in reducing knee pain and improving function over 6 months.

Another study in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatology involved patients from France, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, and the United States. Half took high-grade chondroitin supplements daily for two years, the other group got a placebo. At the study’s end, the chondroitin group had significantly less progression of cartilage damage—evidence of the long-term effects in protecting knee joints.

Try New Therapies

Consider a knee brace. Today there are many styles of knee braces—wraparounds, sleeves and compression braces that can help with mild to moderate knee pain. They stabilize the knee and redistribute the weight-bearing load while you’re active.

A brace protects your knee from further damage and can help reduce pain. You’ll be able to exercise more, even walk more, with a knee brace.

If one style of knee brace doesn’t help, try something else. Talk to a physical therapist or your doctor about knee braces to figure out what’s right for you.

Take Pain Relievers Carefully

Aspirin, Aleve and other NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are often advised for osteoarthritis inflammation and pain. However, don’t use over-the-counter NSAIDs longer than 10 days. Even prescription NSAIDs must be monitored closely for common side effects—stomach pain/ bleeding, heartburn, ulcers, tendency to bleed more (aspirin), headaches, dizziness, and high blood pressure.

Try topical painkillers. Icy Hot, Zostrix, and Bengay don’t require a prescription, and they can be effective for some people. They work by stimulating natural pain-relieving chemicals in the body.

Old-fashioned heating pads are also soothing; some people like cold packs best. Or get into the bathtub for a nice long soak with Epsom salts to relieve the inflammation.

Talk To Your Doctor

If your pain is limiting your life, it’s important to talk with your doctor. If you can’t go up and down stairs or walk more than a block without pain, let your doctor know. Talking about how pain is affecting your life will help you to get the care you need.