The effects of running on knee health have been debated for years. On one side, there are people who say running destroys the knee. In the other camp, there are people who say it’s safe for all knees — even if you suffer from arthritis. Let’s see what the experts say.
The Scientific Effects of Running with Arthritis
Dr. David Felson, an epidemiologist at the Boston University of Medicine, cited past studies that indicated that jogging had a negative impact on knee degeneration and hastened the onset of osteoarthritis. However, recent studies have found no adverse impacts of running on the knees — and most of the people with arthritis in the knees had no prior history of running.
Although many runners still believe that the repetitive impact on joints caused by running or jogging can have adverse effects on the knees, it is actually the other way round. While people with arthritis or knee injuries may have conditions that cause excess pain while running, one study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology reported that running has the potential to reduce inflammation in the knees. Surprisingly, it was remaining sedentary for longer durations that increases the risk of soreness in the knees.
In fact, research shows that regular running may help to delay the onset of arthritis in people who are prone to developing arthritis. Running can help to improve the lubricity of the knee joints and retain more fluids to help cushion the joints and keep your movements smooth. Another long-term study suggests that running may even mitigate the chances of osteoarthritis and hip replacement.
Plus, it has the side benefit of helping people of all ages stay active. A study was focused on the effects of regular running in people between 50-70 years of age; specifically, if running increased the risk of knee damage. The results showed quite the contrary. Exercising not only improves knee health but also keeps you active, especially since the enthusiasm for weight-bearing exercises generally diminishes once you reach your golden years.
Today, the vast majority of physical science experts agree that jogging alone has a low risk of contributing to damage to the knees. and after observing runners for months, no correlation between running and the onset of arthritis was found. Thus, it is safe to conclude that recreational running doesn’t increase the risk of knee pain.
The Benefits of Running According to Health Experts
It is Beneficial for Joints
As we age, joint cartilage begins to degenerate and we start to lose muscle strength — typically around the age of 40. But regular exercise at a moderate pace can keep your knee health in optimum condition. Beginning a running routine is a slow progression. Going at it too fast or doing too much commonly leads to knee injuries and sore joints. Ramping up too fast can also strain the muscles and ligaments that are not yet ready to handle the increased workload. As a beginner, aim to run just three to four times a week. Once you get into the swing of things, you can work on increasing your distance and speed.
According to one Swedish study, aerobic exercise such as running and jogging provides many different benefits for the knees. Physical health experts observed the biochemistry of cartilage in a group of high-risk osteoarthritic patients. Half of the participants engaged in no exercise, and the other half completed various exercises, including jogging. Cartilage health showed improvement in the group of individuals who exercised, providing proof that running can be perfectly healthy for joints, even the knees.
Dr. Jonathan Chang, an orthopedic surgeon from California, concurs with the results of these studies. Exercising stimulates cartilage, and it also improves the body’s ability to repair minor knee injuries on its own. Mixing your running workouts with weight-bearing exercises can also help to improve bone and muscle mass.
It Keeps you Active
Running doesn’t have to mean racking up the miles on your own. Young joggers are more inclined to take part in other activities, such as walking, yoga, and other activities throughout all stages of life. Active people often report that exercise has a positive impact on their quality of life.
However, running-induced knee injuries that require surgery increase the risk of arthritis. Routine, fast running seems to have a similar effect on your knees. Aim to run in moderation with a pace of 8-10 minutes per mile for 40 minutes a day.
People who are overweight shouldn’t start a running program right off the bat, but rather opt for brisk walking. This should continue until the point when your body mass becomes suitable for your knee joints. Extra weight can lead to knee inflammation, form bone spurs, and increase cartilage loss. Starting slowly also decreases the risk of burnout.
In average adults, the knee works like a sponge to absorb the force caused by running and other weight-bearing exercises. The notion that excessive running can be harmful to your knees is so commonly accepted that the knee ailment known as patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS), is also called “runner’s knee”. This ailment is often blamed on the traumatic load on the knee. But that may not be the whole answer: running incorrectly can hurt your knees too.
Your Form Affects your Stride
Mindy Solkin, a certified physical trainer, reports that the cause of many running-related injuries is due to running with poor form. Many of these issues can be treated with self-evaluation of your stride, but some issues are based on the structure of the body. For example, excessive weight, a tilted pelvis, and a significant discrepancy in the length of your legs can have a marked effect on the comfort of your run.
New runners experiencing pain should get a biomechanical analysis to identify the underlying causes. Whether it’s your stride, your shoes, or your body’s unique features, an expert can help you strategize your running schedule and suggest treatments that can help to prevent joint pain and injuries.
The Wrong Gear Makes you Prone to Injuries
Runners often experience knee pain due to rough terrain and improper gear. Choosing the wrong surfaces on which to run (such as roads or paved paths) may also increase your chances of sustaining a knee injury. In case of knee injury or pain, try running on softer surfaces such as sand or dirt trails to help reduce stress on your joints.
Using the wrong shoes or running barefoot also makes you more injury-prone. Ultra-light, minimalist shoes that are currently quite popular among athletes, are unsuitable for new or recreational runners. You should always opt for sturdy and cushioned shoes to absorb the impact of running.
When is Running NOT a Good Idea?
According to strength and conditioning expert Jeffery Driban, half of the adult population in the United States will be diagnosed with osteoarthritis before the age of 65. Pay attention to any unusual aches and pains. Typically, when you feel soreness or inflammation, you should ice it immediately, but if it happens repeatedly, medical attention is recommended. It’s smart to take some time off running until your doctor gives you the all-clear. In the meantime, you should opt for low-impact activities such as swimming and cycling to keep up your muscle strength and endurance. If the pain persists, it is crucial to swap your running regimen with lower-impact exercises to maintain your knee health.
Other Causes of Knee Pain
While studies have debunked the myth that running is bad for the knees, certain health conditions may increase the risk of knee pain, injuries, and the development of osteoarthritis. These include:
Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS)
The iliotibial band supports the hip movement and stabilizes the knee joint. The painful symptoms of ITBS are usually felt on the side of the knee and may migrate up to the thigh and hips. The reason for ITBS among runners is still unknown, but ITBS is treatable. With mild physical therapy once or twice a week plus strength training, you can get guidance on how to adjust your gait and technique.
Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (PFPS)
PFPS occurs quite suddenly and presents at the front portion of the knees. Also known as runner’s knee, this syndrome affects the mechanism of the kneecap and how it moves within the joint. Typically, this injury doesn’t require surgery and can be treated with physical therapy.
Extra pounds increase the stress on your knee, making it harder to run. The increased weight puts excessive pressure on the knee that can weaken the cartilage, causing it to break down more quickly over time. If you’d like to begin a running routine, consult with your doctor to get advice on how to start.
Avid runners often believe their hobby leads directly to osteoarthritis, which is not the case. However, all runners should pay close attention to any injuries or unusual pain so it can be treated sooner than later. Prompt care not only prevents further deterioration but can also improve the recovery process. Your general practitioner may refer you to an orthopedist, an expert in knee health who can treat the injury and help you recover properly.
Ways to Improve Knee Health
No matter how hard we try, it’s inevitable that you’ll experience knee pain in one form or another. Here are a few tips to help you maintain the health of your knees.
First, don’t make big jumps in your distance. Gradually increase your mileage by no more than 10 percent each week. If you’re practicing high-intensity speed work, don’t increase your miles or speed by more than 7 percent every week. You should also alternate your training days with recovery days as the body requires ample time to heal.
Improve Muscle Strength
Muscle training is important to keep your knees strong and injury-free. You should take part in strength-training exercises at least twice a week (unless you have any underlying conditions that would contraindicate weight training). Opt for comprehensive training exercises such as squats, pushups, and deadlifts to build muscle synergy.
Listen to your Body
If your muscles are aching and your body feels exhausted, adjust your training regimen. There’s no need to feel guilty about taking a day off — in fact, it’s important that you do. Ignoring your body’s signals can worsen the situation and increase the risk of arthritis and other injuries.
Mix and Match your Training Activities
It is imperative to vary your workout sessions throughout the week. Run on different surfaces, try hill repeats, and change your route up every day. You should also incorporate cross-training and weight training as well. Variety reduces workout overload and increases the recovery process.
Find yourself a Professional Training Plan
You can get the most out of your runs with training plans, expert guidance, and real dedication. And once you catch the running bug, it becomes easier to freestyle your workouts. But every new habit benefits from cues, strategic plans, rewards, and regularity.
As a recreational runner with specific aspirations and goals, try a structured running plan that’s tailored to your needs. When you look for a training program for running, consider:
- Your goal or objective for running
- Your body’s needs and current fitness level
- Your experience level
Every training plan is different, so pick a plan that allows for flexibility. You can add in an extra rest day or switch your week up with cross-training without feeling guilty.
You can’t argue with science: A moderate amount of running or jogging has been proven to be good for you. Not only is it beneficial for your overall health, but it can also help to prevent joint injuries and damage and even slow the effects of arthritis. It is especially helpful for older adults who want to stay physically active and maintain muscular strength.
If, when running, you experience knee tension due to lack of activity, loss of muscle strength and motion range, or poor biomechanics, try a customized training plan. Custom Training Plans guide new runners through smart, customized planning, unique running workouts, and full-body strengthening. If you’re ready to hit the trails, pick up a customized running training plan for beginners today.