Being weak-kneed can be dangerous

Published 10:00 pm Tuesday, November 8, 2016

We sometimes tease people who are afraid of doing something by calling them weak-kneed. But if you’re an older boomer or senior and ever had one or both knees give out or buckle, it’s not only scary, but a sign of knee instability. It is also an issue that can dramatically increase your risk of falling.

Many of us have experienced having a knee “give out” as a result of having scuffed one foot on a curb, door jamb or carpet, and if you were strong enough and lucky enough to keep and quickly regain your balance, you were able to avoid a fall. But for seniors that may not be the case. Of the 20 million emergency room visits in 2013 in the US, 13.5 percent or almost 3 million were because of a fall.

For those of us with osteoarthritis of the knee or chronic knee pain, it’s important to make your doctor aware of those concerns, because your risk of falling may increase over time if the knee(s) become weaker. This is most likely to occur during weight-bearing activities like going up or down stairs.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

A research study done on people with arthritis, weak or painful knees, found that participants in their study who had previously experienced a fall, were four times more likely to suffer another fall, and three times more likely to have that fall result in a severe, disabling injury.

People who have fallen often avoid physical activity, which unfortunately results in further decline of their leg and knee muscle strength, a loss of confidence in their balance and ultimately, a reduction in daily activity. This can cascade into other problems including psychological impacts such as depression, anxiety, dependency, and social isolation.

It’s not a good idea to try and self-diagnose. Check with your doctor first to be sure of the basis of the problem, and ask if you can participate in some activities that will rebuild your leg strength, flexibility and reduce your fall risk. Many doctors can tell you precisely what activities s/he recommends to help you exercise, lose weight, lower the risks of falling and stay active.

For some, the first activity recommended might be a loss of weight to reduce the strain on your knees, which means cutting back on calories and slowly building up your activity time. It might also be suggested that you change the type of shoes you usually wear to lower heel or skid-resistant soles.

Your doctor might get you started on an exercise program by putting you into physical therapy for a period of time, where a professional will show you the proper way to stretch. This can help you establish a good exercise routine for your situation and abilities. These can include exercises such as yoga for flexibility, balance, agility, range of motion, or low impact aerobics such walking or swimming, and possibly some resistance training with light weights to strengthen your leg muscles.

What’s important is that falling is a risk you can’t afford to take. On your next visit to your doctor tell him/her if you’ve fallen or are concerned about falling. If s/he can do so, ask to be directed to a program that includes some of the steps mentioned above that ultimately lead to types of exercise that will help strengthen your leg muscles. Following this advice will reduce the risk of falls, and add to your quality and enjoyment of life.

Ron Kauffman is a consultant and expert speaker on issues of aging, Medicare and Obamacare. Ron is the author of “Caring for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s Disease,” available as a Kindle book on He may be contacted at 828-696-9799 or by email at