Running: Good For Knees

“What about your knees? How are they doing? Don’t you think it would be better for them if you didn’’t run?”

If you’’re a runner, chances are you’ve fielded those questions more than once. Not from doctors or physiotherapists, but from non-running friends and family members who assume that pavement pounding wreaks havoc on our bodies and that we’ll all eventually need knee replacements and motorised scooters because of our arthritic joints.

Osteoarthritis (OA), the most common form of arthritis, occurs when cartilage, the spongy tissue that cushions our joints, breaks down and deteriorates, making weight-bearing activities painful.

Many people believe that running accelerates this process. And while most of us credit our running for keeping our heart, lungs, and soul healthy and happy, a twinge in an ankle or stiffness in a knee makes us wonder if our non-running buddies are perhaps right and our joints are bearing an unreasonable burden.

The fact is, if we run responsibly – wear decent shoes and replace them when worn out, rehab injuries properly, incorporate cross-training and rest days into our schedules as needed , we’re no more susceptible to OA than the general population, say medical experts.

Actually, it’s the doubters on the sidelines who could have a better chance of developing it.

Weighing In on Knee Pain

The number-one risk factor for OA is excess body fat -– a problem most runners don’t have. Sedentary, overweight people are 45 percent more likely to develop OA than those who are active. The more you weigh, the more pressure is placed on the joints, which seems to accelerate the breakdown of cartilage. Since losing weight is one of the best ways to prevent OA (losing five kilograms can take between 20 and 25 kilograms of pressure off the knee), and running is one of the most effective kilojoule-burners, hopping on the treadmill for a tempo session could help.

But running does more than just lighten the body’s load. Aerobic exercise improves most body functions -– including joint health. When you exercise, the cartilage in your hips, knees and ankles compresses and expands. This draws in oxygen and flushes out waste products, nourishing and keeping the cartilage healthy. Without exercise, cartilage cells get weak and sick.

Furthermore, running strengthens the ligaments that help support joints, making them more stable and less susceptible to sprains and strains, which can damage cartilage and eventually lead to OA.

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10 Responses to Running: Good For Knees

  1. Anton 11 November 2011 at 2:13 pm #

    Dear Sir, I would like to find out something please: I started running plus minus 2 years ago…
    My goal is to run my first marathon and then ultra and then comrades. My weight is 112kg and very big bone structure, I was 122kg.
    Everytime after a long run lets say 10km or even a race 21km i struggle with a pinching muscle in my hip and it effects my lower back and knees and its very sore and sometimes it takes long before its feels better.

    I went 8 x to the phesios and that did there stuff but the injury came back after my runs. I done the 2 oceans half marathon this year and bang its back. I stop for 5 months and bang its back after my 7 x 5.5km runs training run….what can it be? and what can i do to fix it ? I dont have lots of money but i love running and i dont want to stop because of the injury…..Thanks you very much for the time reading my comments
    Regards
    Ants

    • Scott 15 May 2012 at 9:17 am #

      Personally, I wouldn’t attempt any long distance running if I weighed 112KG even if you aren’t overweight and just have a large build. Maybe try doing triathlons instead, that way running is only a part of the full race, I’ve recently been picking up running injuries and that’s what I’m planning on doing.

  2. Sian 14 November 2011 at 4:57 pm #

    Try running in minimalist shoes like Vibram Five Fingers, New Balance Minimus, Merryl Barefoots.

    If you do any reading on runners that have switched to minimalist / barefoot running, you’ll find that most of them have eliminated back, hip, and knee pain as well as eliminated injuries like plantar fasciitis, shin splints etc.

    Read “Born To Run” by Chris McDougall to find out more about how your body is built for running, and how “modern” running shoes are actually more the cause of running pain …

  3. steve 14 November 2011 at 8:42 pm #

    Hey Anton,

    Im no doc or anything but i just wana ask if you are taking up any other sports in between running like swimming,cycling and hitting the gym?

    Doing some cardio and core excersises at the gym will help.

    keep up the good work

    Regards
    Steven Elliott

  4. Dr colin marais 19 November 2011 at 8:06 am #

    Ants.well done for your effort. I see lots of people every day complaining about knee and back pain but seldom they are willing to do anything about it. Keep running!

    About the hip pain. Believe it or not, but the most likely cause is your back! Nerves get caught in small openings and cause what we call referred pain.

    The solution: core training! Your back is taking strain because yor abdominal muscles are weak. Work on it a bit and see if there is any improvement.

    If not: go see a gp. You need lower back xrays. (there might be something catching the nerve)

    NEVER run through this pain. Nerves cant grow back!

    Hope to see u on the tarmac soon!

  5. R 15 May 2012 at 12:34 pm #

    Anton – It can be done!

    Keep it up, but build up slowly. I started running 4 years ago weighing in at 117kg. I now weigh 80kg, have a marathon pb of 2hrs46min and have completed 3 Two Oceans Ultras (2 slivers) and 2 Comrades.

    I did experience knee & hip pain when I started, but I took it slow and only ran 3 days a week before losing some weight.

    Take it easy and enjoy it.

  6. Denise 16 May 2012 at 9:34 am #

    Recently saw a Biokentist for my knees, gave me a program of excercises to strengthen my core and glutes. My husband went for a knee operation a year ago but if he was recommended to see a Biokentist the operation would not have been necessary. Always seek a second opinion.

  7. Tamsyn 16 May 2012 at 12:59 pm #

    I have Patella Alta and have been advised by a specialist to stop running… I really do not want to give up running; can anyone advise if there is a way around this so that I may keep running.

    The specialist also advised that if I keep running, I will require an operation which they not prepared to do now (as my knee does not require it now and there are risks associated to the op).

  8. Stefan 22 May 2012 at 9:33 am #

    I had a big problem with my knees about 2 years ago while running. I could walk fine, but when I ran for more that 100m, the joints in my knees pinched together and it hurt so bad I could barely walk.

    I then when to a physio and found that my posterior chain was messed up and my hips were too weak.

    After I did a lot of hip and posterior specific exercises, the problem went away and never had problems since.

  9. Deon 3 June 2012 at 9:44 am #

    Hi Anton,

    I know (or don’t?) if your are a GP or Orthopedic Specialist but I am going to ask this in this context again. Nobody or dr. ever gave me a satisfactory answer. My weight is up an down due to a recent personal tradegy when my weight dropped from almost 100 to less than 75, I am 1.8m but should mention I have big upper legs – not fat but a bit around the belly from a decade of alcohol abuse. I fully recovered from that and now live and eat healthy – I am an avid cyclist turned hardcore mountainbiker for more than 5 years now. My weight has gone up and stabilized at around 88Kg for the past 6 months now, ever since I am off the anti-depressant I was using after my parents sudden death 2 years ago. I am getting better by the week in terms of fittness although time for training is limited. Problem is that I had knee pain for a long time and noticed that I could not kneel or when I crouch I have excrusiating pain, I thought it just from being overweight. The are also prominent protrusions below my knee caps. Never hindered me cycling unless I fell or bumped into something it is hellish pain. After a big crash I dislocated my knee and under treatment and with x-rays my surgeon informed me that I had Oshgood Schlatters disease as a child (athough I was always sporty) To come to the point, on ocation I run/jog mainly when on holiday I love going on the beach and can manage 5km with care at a considerable pace. That besides my 2km sprint to catch the wednesday Gautrain bus in time point being I keep going in red and because I cannot find a good rythem I cannot mantain running on end like I do on the bike and I am sure I have a big aerobic engine. I can go 4 hours at almost 85% max HR before turning in jelly. I suffer no knee pain during or after running, just sore shins but I put that down to not warming up. Should I like when cycling warm up for 30min before going hard running, maybe just walking and run short spurts or do you think running is not for me. I really enjoy biking but want to become stronger and maybe do a duathlon and shed 5K or so. I feel better and stronger now although 10Kg more than my low point at 75 when I felt like a washed out rag.

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