Among non-runners and beginner runners, there are a plethora of misconceptions about the health consequences of running. Perhaps the most widely held belief is the thought that the pounding involved in running eventually ruins the knees and leads to arthritis, raising the question, “Is running bad for your knees?”
While our natural impulse may be to view the biomechanics of running as inherently destructive to the knee, the general medical consensus shows that the opposite is true – running does not advance osteoarthritis of the knee, but, in fact, a prolonged routine of running has been show to lower the incidence of such conditions.
Does Running Cause Arthritis?
When it comes to running, pounding the pavement is no metaphor. During a 10-mile run, the feet are thought to make approximately 15,000 heel strikes with a force equal to three or four times the body weight. Many individuals believe that under this stress, the cartilage, joint lining, ligaments, and underlying bone of the knee break down and lead to a painful condition known as osteoarthritis. But, in reality, does running cause arthritis?
Contrary to popular opinion, a Stanford University study that compared middle to older-aged runners with healthy nonrunners over a 20-year period found that long distance running did not contribute to the development of osteoarthritis. After the observational period, the study revealed that only 2% runners had severe arthritis, compared with 9% of nonrunners.
The reason why the pounding in running is thought to shield against osteoarthritis lies in the unique biomechanics of running. A study of healthy adults showed that, compared with walking, the long length of strides and short duration of ground contact involved in running minimizes the forces associated with joint contact and thus mitigates the risk of osteoarthritis.
Benefits of Running on Knee Joint Health
While the biomechanics of running may protect against osteoarthritis, individuals starting a new fitness regimen might conclude that the same is true of other weight-bearing activities that increase bone and muscle mass. However, science suggests that running may have a leg up over other fitness activities due to its unique benefits to knee and total body health.
The Stanford study revealed that, unlike running, elite-level participation in ballet, soccer, and weight-lifting were thought to increase the risk of osteoarthritis. In addition, a large-scale study of nearly 75,000 runners revealed that runners had less overall risk of osteoarthritis and hip replacement than peers engaging in less strenuous activities like walking. Running’s ability to attenuate weight gain played a major role in these findings. The lower body mass index (BMI) levels associated with running are also able to decrease the risk of osteoarthritis and hip replacement as compared to non-running activities.
Risk Factors for Knee Damage
Although studies have revealed that running should not be discouraged on the basis of posing osteoarthritis risk, there are certain risk factors that runners should be aware of to avoid damaging their knees.
When running is relatively running, the load on the knees can adapt. Uneven load on the knees can be destructive though. An uneven load on the knees can be caused by several factors including high weight, overexertion, undue speed, previous running injuries, muscle strength imbalance, and improper footwear.
Maintaining a healthy weight and performing exercises that strengthen and improve balance and flexion of the muscles that support the knee are great ways to ensure that appropriate load on the knee is achieved. These practices can also help you continue to run and be a fit, healthy, road warrior throughout your life.
Consult Manhattan Orthopedic Care to learn more about how to prevent or treat osteoarthritis or other knee conditions.