Knees wearing out

Do our knees generally wear out with age, or are certain individuals more prone to it due to genetics or hereditary reasons?

If there is a genetic component to such wear and tear, a) what can susceptible individuals do to prevent or limit the extent of knee injuries?b) will my children suffer the same knee problems when they grow up, even if they do not exercise to the same degree that I do?

The cartilage in our knee does undergo degeneration as we get older. The water and protein content changes and the shock absorption properties deteriorate. This is something everyone undergoes, and the extent of the degeneration is dependent on one's physical activity.

There is a genetic component to osteoarthritis, which is the degenerative form of osteoarthritis. The genetic link is even stronger in patients with rheumatoid arthritis which is an inflammatory type of arthritis affecting multiple joints in the body.

Susceptible individuals should avoid high impact activities like running, jumping and contact sports. Good low impact activities include walking, swimming, cycling and training on the cross trainer/ elliptical machine in the gym.

My other advice is to seek help early if you have knee pain affecting your lifestyle or daily activities. You should get the knee pain assessed by a specialist to determine the underlying cause. If it is a structural abnormaiity, it would be wiser to refrain from high impact activities.

Q&A answered by Dr Kevin Lee, medical director of the Centre for Joint & Cartilage Surgery, a subsidiary of the Singapore Medical Group Limited. Dr Lee was awarded both the Singapore Orthopaedic Association Young Investigator Award and N Balachandran Award in 2005 and is the Principal Investigator for several active grants involving cartilage repair, stem cells, biomaterials and joint replacements.