Will Running Ruin Your Knees?
Posted on 08 Jul, 2015
Some of you may have that friend who wore out his or her knees from too much running. But at the same time, you’ve probably also read about runners who, at age 70 and above, are still running marathons. The truth is, both scenarios happen in real life.
Depending on your running speed and form, each footstrike exerts a load on the knee that is between 4 to 12 times your bodyweight. So if you weigh 100 pounds, at least 400 pounds of pressure will be applied to your knee.
Situated in your knee between your shin bone and your thigh bone is meniscal cartilage. Its function is to provide cushioning and stability when we walk, run or jump. Over time, this cartilage can get worn down or lose its suppleness, resulting in the joints rubbing against each other, bone on bone. From this friction, arthritis can develop and worsen.
The Good News
Recent studies have shown that continuous exercise actually strengthens the knee joint, rather than contribute to its destruction. The loading and unloading of the knee joint, created by weight-bearing activity like running, helps condition the joint, making it stronger. In addition, flexion and extension of the joint forces fluid flow, which provides lubrication and nourishment to the surrounding tissues.
While jogging, or running, itself will not cause arthritis, if you are predisposed to arthritis, you likely will get it whether or not you run. If you already have the condition, and you have no cartilage in your knee, running will make it worse.
Other factors can also come into play. If you run in a way that creates an uneven load on your knee joint, improper wear and tear can indeed occur.
Sometimes it’s a matter of changing your running route to a location that is flatter with less of a slant. Sometimes it’s a matter of changing your shoes. The key is to recognize the problem early so it can be corrected early before undue damage occurs.
Lastly, there are body types out there that are not conducive to running, for example, people who are excessive pronators or people who have hyperextending knees (genu recurvatum). Those who have some of these issues can run, but should limit their distances to what their body can take.
There are a few things you can do to complement your running. Incorporating activities like cycling, swimming, yoga and weight training into your routine helps strengthen different muscle groups and builds flexibility.
Each runner has a different built. And each runs with a different gait, at varying speeds, on different terrain. Our diets are also different, and can range from paleo to vegan to fruitatarian to ‘anything-goes’. Lastly, some of us are genetically pre-disposed to arthritis, and some are not. Each of these factors play a role in deciding if running is ruinous or regenerative to the knees.
On the whole, being physically active and fit is the best defense against arthritis. But there's a happy medium you should maintain. Don’t go too far, too fast, too soon. Take things in stride, build up your endurance slowly and listen to your body.
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