Want To Avoid Knee Problems? Start Running!

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By: , SparkPeople Blogger
8/28/2009 2:17 PM   :  120 comments   :  33,960 Views

See More: news, cardio, running, injury,
It's something I've heard for years: "All of that running is going to kill your knees. You should find some other lower-impact exercises instead." Although it's a common perception that running will negatively affect your knee joints and likely leave you hobbling around in your later years, does research support that idea? Not necessarily.

A study published in the journal Skeletal Radiology examined runners knees before and after a marathon, and then again 10 years later. They found no new damage to the knee joint after 10 years, and even concluded that continuous exercise (such as running) might be more protective than damaging to the knees. Would you have thought that running might actually help your knees?

A Stanford University study followed distance runners for a period of 20 years. They found the runners' knees were healthier and less arthritic than the control group. An additional study in The Journal of Joint and Bone Surgery concluded that "by moving and loading your knee joint, as you do when walking or running, you “condition” your cartilage to the load. It grows accustomed to those particular movements." This conditioning might actually help protect against arthritis.

The best way to prevent knee problems is to avoid injury in the first place. Previous injury significantly increases the chance of injury in the future. You can help prevent injury by avoiding overtraining, increasing mileage slowly, and strength training regularly.

So far, I've been lucky enough to avoid serious injuries in my running career. I always joke that if I'm still running when I'm 60 (which I intend to be), I've got a chance to qualify for the Boston Marathon. (The qualifying time for a 60-year old woman is 4 hours and 30 minutes.) The results of these studies give me hope that I won't have to find a new passion when my body decides it's had enough pounding on the pavement.

What do you think? Do the results of these studies surprise you?


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Comments

  • 120
    Its good to hear since i started to run. I have had a knee injury before so that would was good new to my ear that it might help me from possibly injuring it again. - 10/10/2012   7:28:39 PM
  • 119
    Everyone is different, my knees hurt before I lost weight and even now they hurt just as bad as they did then. Running couldn't possibly help me at this point. I do however walk and try for 10,000 steps a day with one day off. - 10/4/2012   6:59:17 PM
  • 118
    I have arthritis and fibromyalgia and I run. I love it. The best part is if I am working out hard and running, my symptoms from both diseases completely disappear. - 2/1/2012   9:06:38 AM
  • MONALISAPIA
    117
    I agree to this. Ever since i started running, my "knee pain" slowly disappeared. - 8/30/2011   9:57:32 PM
  • 116
    I have begun the couch to 5k program. I am excited every day that I complete. Yesterday I did day 2 of week 2 so I am very excited about that!!! - 10/22/2010   6:08:47 PM
  • 115
    Thanks for the leads on the articles. For the purposes of the dailyblog, there are obvious space constraints and I would love to look at these studies in their entireity along with their secondary studies to back these primary research pieces up. - 5/20/2010   10:00:49 AM
  • 114
    "A Stanford University study followed distance runners for a period of 20 years. They found the runners' knees were healthier and less arthritic than the control group."

    I think studies like these are misleading. Runners are a self-selected group, who may choose to run because their knees are in good condition. Why were they non-runners non-runners? Because their knees were already in bad shape? It's too easy to confuse correlation with cause.

    - 5/20/2010   8:48:44 AM
  • 113
    I've always HATED running, but I recently started this program to lose a little weight: http://www.coolrunning.com/engine/2
    /2_3/181.shtml
    . I'm on week 3 of the Couch-to-5K program and love it so far. It's excellent for beginners! - 5/19/2010   6:41:01 PM
  • 112
    I want to start running but should I start running in a indoor track, I am heavy and had a tore ACL about two yeras ago and at times it hurts, but ID like to start a running routine for the first time? - 11/20/2009   11:10:40 AM
  • 111
    This definitely does surprise me. I have read article upon article that walking is much better for you than running. I gave up running because of that. I do believe I may start walking again. - 9/16/2009   8:29:36 AM
  • 110
    I wonder if the same holds true for the hip joint. I had mine replaced 13 years ago and have had reconstruction on the same hip twice since. I've been walking regularly but the Dr forbids running because of the impact.

    These findings come as little surprise to me. My knees used to bother me every night but since I've been walking regularly for a couple of years I seldom have pain unless I am in the car for a long period of time. thanks for the article. - 9/7/2009   10:59:57 PM
  • 109
    this was definitely surprising... i must be doing something wrong then 'cause every time i run for two days in a row, my knee starts to hurt, i usually have to let it rest for two or three days in between... - 9/7/2009   7:52:45 PM
  • 108
    (Oops! Double-clicked submit.) (^_^) - 9/7/2009   8:04:33 AM
  • 107
    I would have to respectfully disagree with this article and the test results.

    I used to run a great deal. Running continuous 9 minute miles were nothing to me. I would carry on a conversation and not think twice about it. Then, as I began weight training and putting on muscle, I went from 155 lbs (and I was 6' 5''!) to a very lean 215 lbs. No matter how you slice it, your joints - knees and ankles - and feet simply don't like it when you throw another 60 lbs on them, albeit muscle or fat, and expect them to perform as they always have.

    Each time I tried to run (using the correct shoe) it became agony. My knees and ankles would ache for days! In the end, I opted for cycling and that has been my saving grace for the last 15 years. - 9/7/2009   8:03:58 AM
  • 106
    Thought provoking article- thanks.
    - 9/6/2009   12:14:48 PM
  • 105
    I haven't really been exercising on a regular basis until this year. I usually run or walk on a treadmill and noticed that when I don't practice this form of exercise for more than a couple of days my knees start feeling really wobbly. I thought it was because of the running but I guess not. I also heard that wearing really high heels on a constant basis can cause weak knees. - 9/4/2009   8:42:51 PM
  • NPAUL929
    104
    I recently read two articles about runners who developed knee problems due to running and the reason was because of weak hamstrings. - 9/4/2009   8:23:07 AM
  • 103
    Ok, so 3 yrs ago,I was a truck driver/delivery person; and I popped my knee backward while loading bumbers into my truck. I do a LOT of walking now, and find that I have to be careful a lot of the time. Mostly that's consentrating on the position and making a full circle of motion with my knee. I think that if I were careful, I could see how building the supportive muscles around my knee would be benificial. HOWEVER, I was also a housekeeper for 17 years, through 4 pregnancies. During that time my disks became herniated, and in the subsequent years the disks have disappeared, compacting and almost fusing the L4,L5, and S1 vertibrae in my back. (Maybe they are by now.) I've been told that running (as much as I loved it in my youth) is not recommended. Is there new research to dispell that? I am SO tempted by all the articles about interval training, and the idea of being able to fit 'more' workout into my alotted time. I don't want to approach my old(er) age with self-inflicted injuries. - 9/2/2009   5:14:47 PM
  • 102
    I've considered starting running, but since I'm in my mid-forties and about 30 pounds overweight, I've been worried about possible damage if I don't do it right.

    - 9/2/2009   2:33:49 PM
  • 101
    Nope, I'm not at all suprised, and BTW, I was almost 60 when I first took up running. I have old injuries to both knees, one from a bike accident as a kid and the other from a skating tumble when I was in my 20s. I think joint stess is a function of bad form, not high impact exercise per se. Running to improve joint function take a bit more than just putting one foot in front of the other. It also requires core stability, balance, and proper distribution of weight and impact with each footfall. - 9/2/2009   6:57:44 AM
  • 100
    Very surprising indeed... I have been on hiatus from my run program BECAUSE of a knee injury. So this was an interesting discovery. - 9/1/2009   8:43:29 PM
  • 99
    I just started a running program and one of the things a family member told me was it will hurt my knees. Based on attitude alone, I got the feeling I'm bordering on lunatic in their opinion. This posting really boosts my thoughts about it. I'm starting slow as I've never done anything like this but I would like to build a program I can continue for years. - 9/1/2009   6:28:15 PM
  • MDUPUIS
    98
    I have been an orthopedic nurse for 18 yrs. Never have any of my patients who have had knee replacements (and I've taken care of numerous) ever said their surgery was due to running. But I can tell you almost all of them were overweight. Many times needing both knees operated on. I'm not a runner but do cardio exercise 3 times a week. I have had knee surgery (torn ACL and MCL) from a skiing accident. This is great news to me. I will be discussing starting a running program with my physican! - 9/1/2009   6:26:46 PM
  • ECHIFIT
    97
    Thank you for all the great comments.

    As some have stated; most running injuries are caused by repetitive stress and impact on the body. This excess repetitive stress and impact is caused by position and motion inconsistent with our anatomy or if opposing forces of nature. We are all designed to run; and there is evidence that when we did hunt it was strategic running endurance that wore out the hunted. And we did not necessarily sprint the hunted down. Anyway you look at it, we are designed to sprint over short distances with one form (short duration results in minimal repetitive stress and impact) and designed to run longer distances with a different form. Animals in nature do the same thing. They adjust technique for speed and terrain for efficiency and injury-prevention; otherwise they perish. They instinctively know that their mobility is directly tied to their longevity. I will suggest that we are no different. So if we want to run or walk consistently without discomfort/aches/pain/injury, we best work on technique to make sure we are using our anatomical design properly AND we are cooperating with very big forces of nature.

    Re: knees; in order for them to be healthy we definitely need to use them. Here is an article to consider if you have knee pain or injury:
    - http://www.chirunning.com/shop/page
    s.php?tab=r&pageid=18&id=37&partner
    =dstretanski


    More information on ChiRunning principles and resources here:
    - http://www.chirunning.com/shop/prod
    uct.php?productid=3&cat=14&page=1&p
    artner=dstretanski


    ChiRunning®/ChiWalking® are the combination of the principles and inner focus of T'ai Chi with running/walking. The result is postural alignment and motion based on the body's design, simple principles of nature and laws of physics.

    David Stretanski
    Certified ChiRunning®/ChiWalking® Instructor
    http://www.eChiFitness.com
    - 9/1/2009   6:18:59 PM
  • MOON4747
    96
    I've had 4 knee surgeries, 2 on each knee. My doctor advised against running, but kept telling me to lose weight to help my knees. That was 3 years ago, I am running 20 - 25 miles a week, and have not experienced even one bit of knee pain since I started. I will be a runner for life, not only for the weight loss (45 pounds) but to keep my knees healthy! - 9/1/2009   3:21:27 PM
  • CAFERN
    95
    I'm not against running, but they do fail to state the ages of the participants in this study. Perhaps in that time span and with a younger age range there is noticeable difference, but over a longer time, how could something so jarring not wear the joints faster. I heard in the last 5 years something about how runners are at a higher risk for needing hip replacement in later years since our bones are not designed to last as long as we are living, added stress to the body diminishes their (bones) lifespan quickly. Of course there's other variables such as the type of runner studied, support of shoes they wear and if they're using good form can all impact results, etc.. I'm not a scholar on this at all, but I personally am taking this study lightly. - 9/1/2009   2:33:58 PM
  • KERLYKERK
    94
    I had friends in high school on the track team that really pushed themselves too far when running. They are in their mid 20s now and have horrible knees. I think it's all about how you take care of your body - whether you're overweight, or you work out obsessively. There's a wide span of happy medium we can all fall into. Each of us needs to find our own fitness and weight levels that suit us. - 9/1/2009   2:26:42 PM
  • 93
    These study results do surprise me. I've just started jogging but don't do it everyday so that I can save the wear and tear on the knees and hips. Perhaps I'll increase it now. - 9/1/2009   2:15:01 PM
  • TRESCOTT25
    92
    I am 65 and many of my friends have either had knee or hip replacements or are experiencing significant problems with them. I have begun hiking and running barefoot. A new book borne to run puts the blame for the epidemic ( my word) of joint replacements directly on the running shoe industry. I am having great success in increased flexibility and building up my tolerance of the bottoms of my feet. If you are having problems with knees or hips you should try walking or running barefoot. I can promise you that you will put a lot less wear on your joints if you walk or run barefoot. Running improperly, or the same way you do with shoes, while barefoot hurts terribly and you will stop long before it damages your joints. Your foot placement is very gentile and careful. You have a coach on the end of each foot that lets you know when you are doing it properly.

    Good Luck

    Good Luck - 9/1/2009   2:00:06 PM
  • 91
    This doesn't really surprise me. Our muscles quickly atrophy with disuse, so it would seem that the weightbearing exercise our joints are designed for would actually strengthen them. Now if you had said to take up crawling, I would have doubted you. I am pretty sure carpet installers (or others who have occupations where they spend a great deal of time bearing weight on the flexed knee) have many more knee problems than runners. - 9/1/2009   1:47:28 PM
  • 90
    My brother in law is a doctor and says that running may eventually cause knee problems. He said that he treats many people in their 40's+ who were runners and now have knee and ankle problems. - 9/1/2009   12:05:27 PM
  • 89
    But what about if you're very much overweight? (Say around 60lbs overweight?) Running uphill and on flat land doesn't bother me too much, but when running downhill, even with a slight slope, my knees feel like they are about to break! I never had a knee problem before and they don't bother me at any other time, so I assume that it is the weight and the impact that they can't take :'-( - 9/1/2009   11:34:25 AM
  • 88
    I've read about it other places and printed it out to put on the bulletin board at my local Y. As I runnner I hear it all the time too..and I love showing people things that show running isn't bad for them. Thanks again for a great article! - 9/1/2009   10:49:47 AM
  • 87
    Amazing! Not only did these results surprise me but they knocked me off my previously-held position that runners were sowing the seeds of future knee problems . . . something I used to constantly worry about in the case of my daughter who is forced to run all the time to keep up her military physical fitness requirements. Boy was I relieved to read this article!!!!

    Thank you for taking such a big load of worry off my Maternal shoulders. LOL
    Seriously, I do appreciate it very much! - 9/1/2009   10:46:50 AM
  • 86
    My husband was surprised when I decided to start running back in April of this year. I'd always said my knees and ankles were too weak to ever be a runner. But walking wasn't enough anymore, so I tried running. I did end up spraining my ankle after about a month. After it healed I talked with my husband, a long time distance runner, about how to avoid those injuries. We decided that I had thrown myself into running too hard and too fast. I've since slowed down, only running 2 times a week, and have noticed more strength in my knees and ankles.

    I think this article is both right and wrong. There are many other factors that come into play, including the health of the runner, the technique, and other activities they participate in. For example, when I first started running, I was running with a little strength training, in old shoes, and sprained my ankle. Now I have shoes that absorb shock (to take stress off my joints) and help control my over-pronation, I am doing a more intensive strength training program, and I only run 2 days a week. My knees and ankles are better than ever! So take from this article what you will. I personally think first-hand experience is better than any article when it comes to making up your mind. - 9/1/2009   10:40:03 AM
  • 85
    I find you can wreck your knees without running. your more likely to do it in a freak way like walking lol turn the knee slightly the wrong way and bam you have a tear in the meniscus or falling straight down on your knees due to a wet floor like myself. it all depends on the person and the muscles surrounding the knee if they are strong you are more likely not to damage your knees. i am currently running even though i have the injuries they don't hurt while running =) - 9/1/2009   10:32:36 AM
  • ROSIEL7
    84
    I am glad that I found this article. I have lived with this belief for sometime. I have an old knee injury that prevents me from long distance running, RIGHT NOW. I have noticed that the more I run the less it hurts. GREAT article! - 9/1/2009   10:31:51 AM
  • 83
    I don't think this is a black and white topic. Depending on the circumstances running can be bad for your knees, but under the correct circumstances you shouldn't have any problems. If you're 50 pounds overweight and just decide to start running a mile or two every day in your old highschool converse high tops, you will probably have issues. On the other hand, if you start out slowly by walking, gradually increasing your distance or speed (never both at the same time), incorporate strength training, and purchase shoes made for walking and graduate to shoes made specifically for running, I don't think you'll have issues. Unless of course you've had some pre-existing injury or knee pain. The key to staying injury free is to maintain muscular balance and you can only do that by cross training and strength training the opposing muscle groups on the days you don't run.

    Just remember the Spark philosophy - slow and steady, everything in moderation. - 9/1/2009   9:58:52 AM
  • GODSAVES
    82
    I agree with the article. Before I started on my journey to better health, my knees would hurt with change in the weather or going up and down stairs. I now can jog three miles combined with fast walking daily. My knees no longer hurt nor do they make those cute little cracking sounds anymore. Also, I no longer get cracked, calous, thick skin on my heals and big toe. The number one reason-I feel 100% better. I am 55 and plan on jogging and fast walking as long as the good Lord will let me. God's blessings to you all. - 9/1/2009   9:57:07 AM
  • 81
    GREAT artical!! knee problems run in my family. I am the only one who can jog/run on my treadmill for 5 plus miles. I always use the incline 5% to 8 %. But I cant master the running outside as well as on my mill. I believe I will be jogging/running in my 80's plus!!.. I have an Uncle who is 90 & works~out every morning plus he bikes & also hunts,VERY active.. I know I'm going to be like him..I look forward to my treadmill evey morning!! Thanks for this blog!! - 9/1/2009   9:54:21 AM
  • 80
    My knees are a little on the knocked side, and I'll leave the running to other people. I'll walk, hike, and run in the swimming pool.

    - 9/1/2009   9:53:28 AM
  • 79
    Surprising news. - 9/1/2009   9:39:29 AM
  • 78
    I have heard these warnings as well - but any knee pain I have had while running was quickly alleviated by stretching - leading me to believe that improper stretching can be a problem. Also, many of the injuries to knees are not just straight runners - they are soccer players, footbball players - who are continually making sudden changes of direction and meeting trauma (whoever says soccer is not a contact sport has never watched my daughter's games).

    Warm-up, increase mileage slowly, and stretch - then run!. Your entire body will thank you. - 9/1/2009   9:01:40 AM
  • KARINHANSE
    77
    For those who have to give up running because of the impact, but still want the high cardio workout and calorie burn.....try nordic walking with poles. There are many articles about it and it really can help protect the knees. - 9/1/2009   8:56:50 AM
  • 76
    Well, looking at these comments I must be the only person who agrees with this article. I currently have knee issues on my right knee (previous to jogging), I currently jog, and I have found my knee pain improving ever since. Perhaps it's because I'm losing weight and lessening the pressure on my joints. - 9/1/2009   8:39:38 AM
  • 75
    I totally believe this. I've had knee "issues" for years, including two majorly invasive surgeries on the left. I also had early arthritis in both knees due to a ton of stupid injuries (I'm clumsy :) ) The pain would be so bad sometimes, I'd be in a ball on the floor crying. Well, since I started walking/running a couple of years back, I very rarely have any pain at all. And if it takes movement to keep that kind agony at bay, I'll keep it up! - 9/1/2009   8:39:28 AM
  • 74
    After reading the article and having a friend whose knees were bothering her in her 20s after running track in high school, I think there needs to be more research. However, I do like the theory that running form may have something to do with it - heel to toe is really painful in bare feet. - 9/1/2009   8:30:40 AM
  • 73
    Many points are skipped over in this article, and also in the purely observational studies. But I'll talk about the situation the average runner may face:

    Newby_Runner_OK points out that many injuries come from people running without good form or footwear. Indeed, knee and hip issues spiked in the 1970's when the running shoe entered mainstream use. The occurrence of this issue has maintained a stable rate ever since, showing that while we continually redesign and invent all kinds of whiz-bang cushioning and pronation-protection, etc, the running show is still a big problem. It makes sense as soon as you look at the way we run when we have a cushioned heel - we land heel-first, which is completely unnatural. Trying running barefoot and landing on your heel first - you'll stop quick-smart. Fortunately, companies such as Vibram are inventing shoes that mimic the barefoot experience and natural running form whilst providing our feet with protection from the surfaces we choose to run upon, and as the mainstream running community continues to embrace this footwear, we are sure to see the incidence of injury start to decrease at last.

    Exercise is vital for all the reasons that have been pointed out, and running can certainly assist in the maintenance of bone density. However, the human body isn't designed to cope with endless high-impact running, especially jogging. We are designed to walk for long periods (hunting) and then sprint in brief spurts in order to chase down our prey. Some of these sprints may have been extended beyond a couple of minutes, which is why we are designed to sweat so proficiently, but it's doubtful we ever needed to push ourselves for the 30 minutes (and much much more!) that the running community punishes themselves to do. You are quite literally wearing down your body. There is a reason why marathon runners have more health problems than the average athlete - stroke, heart attack, arthritis (despite the bone density argument), etc.

    So if you love running, go barefoot or get the next best thing, and try alternating between sprinting and walking, like our body is designed to do. Your fitness and weight will improve, and sprinting can also be more suitable for those who are presses for time. You'll find your body is more adaptable to change as well, since you are not merely training your body to jog/run slowly (comparatively) on a smooth, flat surface for ages. And you never know when you'll find the need to run full-pelt... - 9/1/2009   6:45:54 AM
  • HAKIRBY
    72
    I've always thought injury fallacies to be put about by non-exercisers to excuse their laziness. Look at triathlon and ironmen - they have people doing it for years and years. there's 70 year olds in the ironman circuit.

    They seem fine! - 9/1/2009   6:03:45 AM
  • OKIE_RUNNERGIRL
    71
    I'm not surprised about article AND what GYMRAT08 is hearing back from doctors. High impact sports are supposed to aid in a higher bone density in younger people because of the demand on bones, which should over time, create stronger knees. On the flip side, how many people that go to a doctor for running injuries are not using proper form or wearing good shoes? These are essential and most marathoners should know this, so there might be fewer problems among that demographic. - 8/31/2009   4:49:55 PM

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