RUNNING IS NOT BAD FOR YOUR KNEES
The weather is warming up and days are getting longer which means it’s about that time of year for me to write a couple articles on running! I’ve been seeing more folks out on the roads and trails this past week both down in Peoria and here in Frankfort (the roads and trails that aren’t still covered in snow, that is). Im always encouraged to see the new flock of people strapping their shoes on and putting in some mileage in these months that I refer to as “fool’s spring” (the short bouts of warmer weather we get before second winter sets in). To you new runners, be warned, some well meaning friend, family member, or co-worker is surely going to warn you that your new running hobby is bad for your knees. That isn’t necessarily true.
While there are quite a few studies that look at this topic, the one I will be writing about today is an abstract that was presented at the 2014 meeting of the American College of Rheumatology titled: “Habitual Running at Any Time in Life is Not Detrimental and May Be Protective of Symptomatic Knee Osteoarthritis: Data from the Osteoarthritis Initiative.” I’ll provide a link to the abstract at the bottom of the article, this article will only provide a brief synopsis of the findings.
The authors of this abstract looked at nearly 2500 participants, average age of 64.7 years old, +/- 9 years, and evaluated individuals based on whether they had reported being runners at any period of life from adolescence until later adulthood. The study found that folks who had reported being recreational runners were less likely to experience symptomatic osteoarthritis, arthritis manifestations visible on x-ray, and generalized knee pain than those who reported no running. There are more intricacies to the paper, and if you are interested in a more in depth view of it click the link at the bottom.
In light of the seemingly cliche info we hear all the time about running being bad for your knees, how should we view this growing body of scientific literature that says running may actually be good for our knees? Just like anything else, we have to first put it into context.
The paper’s conclusion specifies that these results are applicable to the broader population as opposed to previous studies that had looked at elite runners. Many times when we hear running is bad for your knees, the studies had been performed on elite runners who put in 50, 70, or even 100+ miles of running each week and do so for long periods of time. That is a far cry difference from someone like myself or Dr. Anna who put in 15-20 miles of running each week. We have a very moderate exposure compared to folks who put in long and highly intense running miles.
The strongest correlation between injury and osteoarthritis of the knee deals with acute traumatic injury and arthritis later in life. History of knee injuries like a torn ACL, partial dislocation, torn meniscus etc is FAR more likely to create knee arthritis later in life than moderate recreational running. This doesn’t bode well for those of us with histories of wrestling, soccer, football, rugby etc, however, running in moderate amounts in our adult years may offer protective benefits for our knees despite our previous injury history. For example, after I tore my meniscus last year going through TACP training in the Air Force, the orthopedic surgeon on staff that saw me told me to get back into running when it was all healed up and it would accelerate the recovery process. Younger ortho surgeons are very progressive when it comes to knee injuries and recreational running.
Last, there is a growing body of evidence that a sedentary lifestyle and a higher body mass index lend itself to osteoarthritis MORE SO than running. You may be thinking to yourself, how is it possible that a sedentary lifestyle can hurt my knees? Isn’t running a stress on the body? Yes, running is a stress on the body. The bodies natural response to physical stresses is to make positive adaptations. One of those adaptations is the overall decrease of cytokines (inflammation markers) in your joints. Exercise also generally lowers body weight. Higher body weight has a strong correlation with osteoarthritis in all joints of the body. This is thought to be because of an increased load on the joints of the body and the fact that folks with a higher body mass index generally have higher amounts of systemic inflammation circulating, and osteoarthritis is, after all, and inflammatory condition.
So what do we take away from this? Here is some simple advice. First, don’t be afraid of running, but also don’t jump in head first. Begin by doing simple walk runs. Walk five minutes then run 1 minute. Try and do this for 20-30 minute bouts. Don’t make the mistake I made in my early 20’s of going from couch potato to running a marathon. Ease into it. Second, attend one of our running workshops when we host one again. These are in depth breakdowns of running form and how to gently work your way into becoming a recreational and fitness runner. Last, and most importantly, don’t shy away from activity and run/walk regimens. Humans are supposed to move around on 2 feet. It’s one of the things that separate us from the rest of the animal kingdom. Getting involved in simple walk/run programs will lower your body weight, lower the amount of inflammatory cytokines in our body, increase your resting metabolism, and decrease your resting heart rate.
As promised, here is the link: