Is Running Bad for Your Knees?
We've heard many stories of people hurting their knees when they run. It's a regular occurrence, and there's even a common term being used to describe several conditions that causing pain around the kneecap called "runner's knee" irrespective of the person going through it is a runner or not. Runner's knee is usually temporary, but what turns most people off from running is the fear of developing knee osteoarthritis (OA), a more serious disorder that usually develops later in life.
Is running bad for your knees, considering humans have adapted to running for the past 2 million years?
The straight answer is no, and there is plenty of research to back this up. However, there are circumstances which can make runners susceptible to knee pain and potentially leading to knee OA. In this article, I'll be explaining why running isn't necessarily bad for your knees, and how it can you can make running something to look forward to.
For as long your knees are healthy from the start, running does not substantially increase risks of arthritis. However, Mindy Solkin, head coach of The Running Center in New York City believes most injuries occur due to poor running form. Improper shoes or barefoot running could also be the cause of knee problems. That's why it's important to consider running shoes made specifically for bad knees which are ultimately best suited to minimize any discomfort you may feel.
In 2013, a study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that running reduced risks of OA. This study was done on 74, 725 runners, where only 2004 reported OA after 7 years. This is still a major improvement compared to the 14,625 walkers, who 696 reported OA after the 5-year follow-up. Recently, a study published in Clinical Rheumatology in 2018 found that running had improved knee pain amongst individuals 50 years old and older with knee OA. The study was conducted from 2004-2014 on 1,203 participants.
There isn't an exact reason to why this is. Running helps keep BMI digits low and reduces the overall impact on your joints. Another theory is that running compresses and releases cartilage in the knees which helps to circulate the synovial fluid, a viscous fluid found in joints that help reduce friction between the cartilage. This aids in removing waste inflammatory products from the joints.
Just because running isn't bad for your knees, there are precautions one should take before engaging in this activity. Once you've selected the right pair of running shoes, you should make sure that you're all warmed up. A good warm-up session prepares your body for exercise by gradually increasing heart rate and blood circulation. This will increase blood flow to the muscles and provides them with the nutrients they need. Warming up also reduces the chances of injury.
Once that's settled, make sure you're using proper running form. Most people make the mistake of landing with their heels, which is also called "rear-foot strike". This puts immense pressure on your knees. Landing on your tippy-toes can also hurt your ankles and cause shin splints. You should always land on your mid-foot, with feet pointed in the direction you're running towards.
The last piece of advice any runner should take is to run at their own pace and listen to their bodies. Don't try to beat your previous record when the last time you've tied your running laces was two months ago. This is a shortcut to injury. Be patient, make slow, gradual progress. Because another injury is going to be a huge setback when you're trying to reach your goals.