I hope you’ve been reading Dr. Barbara Bergin’s humorous and informative series of blog posts about what happens to our bodies as we age. She cracks me up sometimes, but I’ve learned a lot about why various parts of my body seem to be turning on me. This week she’s talking about women over 50 and fat knees.
As we age, many of us start noticing that our previously trim knees start looking fatter, regardless of our weight. I can tell you that I’ve never had a guy complain about fat knees… unless they’re on his wife, in which case I hand her the card of a good divorce attorney. There are a few of us who just have fat knees, even if we’re otherwise “thin.” Fat knees are in the gene pool, so blame your mom or dad.
Many women come to see me, thinking it’s an orthopedic problem, because they’re hurting themselves in a futile attempt to make their fat knees go away. Some women are doing hardcore weight lifting exercises to “tone up” their knees, stretches, leg lifts, and those pesky squats, thinking they’ll eliminate the fat around their knees.
Your knees might get a little thinner if you lose weight in general, but the shape won’t change. By now, most of us know we can’t spot reduce. When we lose weight, we lose it everywhere, including our head and our big toe. This cowgirl can tell you that I have two different hat sizes in the closet, along with a full range of skinny to women-sized jeans. There are two other reasons our knees get bigger as we age, and they have nothing to do with our weight.
First, an arthritic knee is a bigger knee. As we lose cartilage, our bones get closer together, and we begin to form spurs. All the soft tissue around these spurs begins to bulge out, and combined with inflammation and swelling, the knees get bigger, sometimes profoundly so. BTW, treating the arthritis has little to no effect on the “thickened” knee.
Second, our knees are no different than our face. As we lose collagen in the skin and subcutaneous tissues, the flesh on our thighs and knees begins to sag. Throughout our body we have fascial attachments of our fat and flesh to the underlying muscles. If we didn’t have this, all of our flesh would drift down to our feet like candle wax. Instead, it just sags down to the next fascial attachment, and with the knee, that’s about a hand’s breadth below the joint, on the inside of the leg. In general, there is a little more fat on the inside of your knee than the outside—that’s where it pooches—and sometimes it’s bigger on one side than the other. Some patients even believe there’s a tumor there, and they insist on MRI scans to make sure there’s no cancer. Ninety-nine percent of the time it’s just fat.
You can’t exercise or stretch it away. A plastic surgeon, however, can suck it out.
As always, I encourage you to send loving chi to your knees, and all parts of your body for getting you to this ripening age. They feel your angst, and they don’t like it either. Be kind. Send love. Rub lotion on those chubby knees, but please don’t try to squat or diet the chubby knee away. You’ll get frustrated—perhaps hurt yourself—and end up having to see someone like me.