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Boost your thigh strength for improved comfort and balance.

Strong quadriceps (thigh) muscles reduce the pain of arthritic knees, and 'also may protect against cartilage loss in the knees, according to research findings. They also can help you avoid back pain and boost your balance.

However, older adults tend to have reduced leg strength, and a new study (Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology, October) suggests that older overweight women are particularly at risk. How do the quadriceps confer their protective effect, and what simple exercises can you do to boost strength in these vital muscles?

Crucial for movement The quadriceps is the largest muscle in the body, and is located at the front of the thigh. It is divided into four portions, all of which attach to the patella (kneecap), and one of which (rectus femoris) attaches to the ileum (the uppermost bone of the pelvis). "As such, it's crucial for motion that involves flexing the hip--for example, walking, running and squatting--and also for stabilizing the knee joint while you walk," says David 'Thomas, MD, associate professor of medicine and rehabilitative medicine at Mount Sinai.

Strong quadriceps enable you to walk extended distances, ascend and descend stairs, and participate in sports or recreational activities, such as dancing. "They also protect your back if you need to bend down to lift a heavy object," Dr. Thomas observes. "If your quads are weak, you'll tend to use your back, rather than your legs, to help you lift--instead of bending at the knees, you'll bend at the waist, which places your back at risk."

Strong quads also help when it comes to maintaining your balance. "If your quads are strong, you're less likely to fall if you trip or experience an unexpected change in momentum, such as might happen on a subway or a bus, for example, than if your legs are weak," Dr. Thomas explains.

Shock absorber One of the most important benefits of strengthening your quads is that the muscles can act as a "shock absorber." When you walk or run, every time you take a step the impact of hitting the ground sends forces through the joints of your legs. "Having strong quads is one way to dissipate some of those forces and decrease wear and tear on the knee joints," Dr. Thomas says. "This is particularly important if the joints are already compromised by arthritis or another condition."

Although squats are among the best exercises to strengthen your quads, Dr. Thomas cautions that it's not necessary--and could be harmful to your knees--to do full, deep squats. Instead, try the Chair Squat exercise shown here, as well as the Step Up, which isolates the quad muscle to help improve its strength.

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Title Annotation:FITNESS
Publication:Focus on Healthy Aging
Article Type:Report
Date:Dec 1, 2011
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