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Is Running Bad For Your Knees?

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MYTH: Repeated jerking of the knee is believed to cause knee osteoarthritis. Exercises like running and jogging actually increase cartilage volume – a good thing for your joints. Running incorrectly or overexertion can cause problems. Obesity can cause trauma to your joints and lead to bony spurs. Don't run on concrete, wear the right shoes, take breaks, and don't overdo it (more so if you're overweight).

A whopping 65 percent of all runners are injured every year. In fact, the typical runner is likely to have some form of injury as often as every hundred hours.1 Statistics like that don’t bode well for the cause of regular runners. Another raging debate is over the impact of jogging and running on your knees in particular. So what is the verdict on your morning run? Could it be doing you irreversible damage? Or is all this a case of paranoia and ill-conceived theories?

Does Running Increase Osteoarthritis Risk?

Over the past decade or so, much has been written about the possibility of activities like jogging damaging the knee. Specifically, the continuous, repetitive impact of the foot was believed to cause the knee to degenerate faster and bring on osteoarthritis. Now, however, researchers have found that this is not the case. When patients with arthritis of the knee were investigated, it emerged that there was no significant history of running. Equally, when runners were observed as test subjects, the risk of the onset of osteoarthritis was not unusually high.2

Interestingly, for 19‒28% of the population over 45 years, knee osteoarthritis might even be linked to obesity (which could be reduced by running), among other factors.3 Risk factors for developing osteoarthritis were linked to gender, genetics, joint vulnerability, and joint stressors like obesity.

A retrospective study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine showed that former competitive runners’ knees, hips, and ankles did not have a greater incidence of arthritis than the general population.4

Running: Good For Your Joints

In fact, one Swedish study actually showed that exercise like jogging can improve the biochemistry of the cartilage in your joints. So running may even be healthy for your joints. Another study found that contrary to expectations of cartilage decline, exercise like running was actually associated with a rise in cartilage volume. The cartilage defects even seemed to reduce.5

Running Without Hurting Yourself

While running itself doesn’t cause knee problems, training errors or “overdoing it” by doing too much too soon could leave you with a bad case of “runner’s knee.” And that’s why training injuries are far more common among new runners than those who have been doing it for years. Training injuries are in the knee about 42 percent of the time, but these can be easily prevented with some care.6 7

Pick The Right Terrain To Run On

Inappropriate, uneven running terrain can put a strain on the knees and cause injuries like ligament tears if you lose your grip or take a tumble. Avoid running on concrete – it is much harder on the knees. Treadmills or trails in parks are a much lower impact option.

Wear The Right Shoe

Running shoes are specially designed and you mustn’t try running unless you have a pair that is designed for your shape of foot and gait. If the tread wears off, buy a new pair ‒ the risk isn’t worth the few bucks you save by putting off the purchase. Even if you are an experienced runner, when you change footwear give your body time to settle into the new pair.8

Let Your Body Rest And Recover

Time off is as important as the actual training. Give yourself a break between bouts of running. It will also help you avoid fatigue-linked problems.

Stay Hydrated And Eat Right

Equip your body with adequate nutrition and water so you are functioning optimally. This will help reduce your chances of injury.

Let Your Body Recover After Injury

If you have had a knee injury don’t push it too soon ‒ you could increase the risk of developing arthritis of the knee. Start with a light routine and build up to a moderate pace of an 8 to 10 minute mile. Do not run for more than 40 minutes a day.

Don’t Overdo It, Especially If You Are Overweight

Walk off some pounds first and then begin running so you don’t cause trauma to the joints. If you try jogging or running while overweight by more than 20 pounds, you could stress your knee and cause it to get inflamed, lose cartilage, and develop bony spurs.9

Besides helping with overall cardiovascular fitness, running helps you strengthen bones and muscles, burn off calories, and stay healthy. Just keep in mind that to sustain running as a regular form of exercise, a little caution goes a long way.

References   [ + ]

1.Sport Specific Safety Cross Country Running, Sports Medicine & Athletic Related Trauma (SMART) Institute.
2, 5.Urquhart, Donna M., J. F. Tobing, Fahad S. Hanna, Patricia Berry, Anita E. Wluka, Changhai Ding, and Flavia M. Cicuttini. “What is the effect of physical activity on the knee joint? A systematic review.” Med Sci Sports Exerc 43, no. 3 (2011): 432-442.
3.Lawrence, Reva C., David T. Felson, Charles G. Helmick, Lesley M. Arnold, Hyon Choi, Richard A. Deyo, Sherine Gabriel et al. “Estimates of the prevalence of arthritis and other rheumatic conditions in the United States: Part II.” Arthritis & Rheumatism 58, no. 1 (2008): 26-35.
4.Konradsen, Lars, Else-Marie Berg Hansen, and Lars Søndergaard. “Long distance running and osteoarthrosis.” The American journal of sports medicine 18, no. 4 (1990): 379-381.
6.Running, New England Baptist Hospital.
7.Running Fact Sheet, Sports Medicine Australia. 
8.Hansen, Pamela, Michael English, and Stuart E. Willick. “Does running cause osteoarthritis in the hip or knee?.” PM&R 4, no. 5 (2012): S117-S121.
9.Put Those Shoes On: Running Won’t Kill Your Knees, National Public Radio (NPR).
CureJoy Editorial

The CureJoy Editorial team digs up credible information from multiple sources, both academic and experiential, to stitch a holistic health perspective on topics that pique our readers' interest.

CureJoy Editorial

The CureJoy Editorial team digs up credible information from multiple sources, both academic and experiential, to stitch a holistic health perspective on topics that pique our readers' interest.

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