Knees and balance share a close relationship, but until I read Grandma Williams blog, I’d never heard of the combination. You wouldn’t believe how relieved I felt when I read it.

Our evening at the ballet last week got me thinking more about knees.

‘All that leaping around,’ I thought, ‘must surely be bad for the knees of those dancers.’

The dancers were young, lithe, beautiful. If their knees were a problem, there was no evidence.

Grandma Williams, however, didn’t write about knees and ballet. Instead she wrote about knees and the opera, or more exactly, the effect sitting at the opera has on knees. She described how one’s ageing joints trend to complain about having to stand and get on with balance. Sometimes, they refuse altogether.

She is an eighty-something retired physiotherapist. Her blogs about her ageing body, including this about joints and loos and one about falling are hilarious.

Until recently, I thought balance was mostly to do with head-space and dizziness. but after a small amount of research, I discovered the effects of ageing, and worse, of osteoarthritis, on joints and especially on knee joints. It makes sense that if major joints are not aligned properly, balance is affected.

I love it when people in authority (like general practitioners) ask me to stand on one foot while they count to twenty, because I practise regularly in the pool where I am bare-footed and able  to adjust my balance. Unless I concentrate my balance suffers, but I can (mostly) balance on demand.

Exhibiting this skill seems set to go on for a while. Those eighty years or older must subject themselves to a physical examination (including knees and balance) every year to renew their driver’s licence. The upside is that over a certain age, there’s no longer a fee to renew.

Another problem to do with balance appears when older people need to walk up or down stairs or on rocky ground. We often need to hold on to something or someone. It is not that we need support as much as we need the additional sensory input for balance.

Even holding on to something unsubstantial, like a little branch or twig that would never bear our weight, steadies us.

My preference for ‘proper’, smooth paths developed gradually. Climbing over rocks at the beach or on bush walks rather than taking sedate steps is exhilarating and much more fun. I miss that roughness! knees and poor balance set us up for the danger of falling. I’ve written about celebrating our stories of falling and about why we should refuse to have falls.  Like almost everything good we want, it’s never too early or too late to work on one’s balance.

What might help knees and balance 

  • Weight within a normal range. Even a few kilograms adds considerable stress to joints.
  • A session or two with an exercise physiologist to work out a strategy for knees and balance.
  • Specific balance exercises. You can check these out here.
  • Exercises which specifically target the muscles which support the knees. These help with the pain of osteoarthritis.
  • I’m contemplating using a proper walking stick to improve my confidence to walk on rough ground.
  • Theatres like His Majesty’s and the Octagon in Perth are not particularly aged friendly, although they do have access for wheelchairs. I might even consider a pretty going-out-at-night stick, one I can fold and carry in my bag until I need it. Purple or bright pink, with painted flowers, would suit my style, I think.

13 replies on “Knees, balance, research and reality”

  1. Balance and knees. Not a topic you’d expect a 33 year old to be nodding along to but oh well.. Stairs are the bane of my existence.

    I have an autoimmune arthritis which predominantly effects my knees. The amount of times I’ve lost my balance on an uneven surface or had falls is ridiculous.

    The benefit of having little kids is I can blame my slow progress on stairs on them . Oh sorry… 3 year old at work here… Go around? People expect parents to be obnoxious anyway. The truth? I won’t give up the stairs. My Nan (90 this year) told me if you stop trying your body learns not to try.

    Thanks for the tips. They’re very useful and not just for 80 year olds ❤

    1. Dear me, Nat. I am sorry to hear about your autoimmune arthritis when you are so young. Glad you found the tips useful, but wish I had more to offer you. I reckon your Nan has got it right, and not just about our bodies but about your minds and hearts as well. I made up my mind this very morning to go up steps at least three times every day because I’ve been avoiding them for a while and now find them more difficult than they were.

      1. Good on you! Isn’t that the hardest part… When you really don’t feel like trying and hurting but you know you need to? I prefer once you’ve done it and that smug feeling “take that stairs!”

        1. Indeed. I love feeling smug about stuff! I fall into a heap when I think I should be doing things and don’t.

  2. thanks Maureen – yes, I attempt to look after my knees also. Needs need please!

    1. Hi, Elizabeth. How can we not look after the poor old knees? Mine play up like naughty children if I think I can neglect them for even a day.

      1. Hi, Try this. As your knees and you greet another morning, before moving from comfort of cosy bed, gently stretch, lift one leg up to right angles to hip, support with hands if feels better.Wriggle toes, individually if possible, then circle ankle a few time.Stretch leg out sideways,support, hold then back.Bend leg to shift knee closer to chin (or chest). Relax. try other leg.See what movements you can improvise acc. to what will suit you.
        Does not take long. By then you are awake ready to carefully stand and accept that welcome cup of tea..x.

        1. Hi, Elizabeth, thank you for your response to my post. Thank you, also, for the suggested exercises for those poor old knees. Sounds almost possible and worth trying tomorrow morning.

  3. Ageing is a tricky business, that’s for sure, but you approach it with such aplomb (I can totally imagine a purple floral stick!). The fact you can balance on one foot for a count of twenty is impressive. I’m sure many people much younger would fail that test!

    1. Yes, it certainly is tricky, Fiona, but it’s an adventure as well and I kinda enjoy the challenges that need to be overcome. Actually, I guess I mostly try to anticipate things, like my possible need to use a stick.

      My apologies for not replying sooner. I have just seen I have some comments.

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