There are many myths out there about running and joint health. Have you heard the one about running is bad for your knees? Or how running wrecks your joints? These two claims are myths that have plagued runners for years. So what is the latest research and what should you know about joint health and running?
Will Running Give You Arthritis?
This is probably one of the biggest myths in the running world, that running will give you arthritis. Recent studies have shown that being active, especially running, is beneficial for your joints. One area the study focused on was the knees. Researchers looked at six runners and noted after running 30 minutes the biochemical environment of the knee in each runner was changed. Many researchers are coming to the conclusion that running regularly will protect your knees in the long-term and help reduce the risk for arthritis in the future.
What Increase the Risk of a Knee Osteoarthritis?
While straight out running may not be one of them, there are some sports that do increase the risk of knee osteoarthritis. Some of these sports include soccer, tennis, ballet, and weightlifting. The sideways action of soccer is one reason the sport puts your knees at risk. Tennis increases the load and impact on your knees, similar to weightlifting and ballet, which are bad long-term for your knees.
Other increased risk factors include previous knee injuries, fractures, repetitive strain, and obesity. Furthermore, genetics plays a large part in the risk for osteoarthritis. If someone in your family has arthritis, especially a parent, you are more likely to develop the condition.
How to Protect Your Knees and Joints
Running may not cause arthritis, but it is import to protect your knees and joints to keep them healthy. One key thing you can do to protect your joints is take rest days. Whether you are training for a marathon or doing daily runs, it is important to give your body a break. Schedule rest days into your training schedule to ensure your body and joints get some rest. It is also important to listen to your body. If you overdo it while running one day, and are extra sore or a joint is hurting more than normal then don’t work out the next day. Your body is trying to tell you it needs a break. Pushing the limits may result in injury or damaging tissue that may put you out of running for a while and increase your risk for arthritis later in life.
Why Do Knees Hurt?
After running, you may experience knee pain. This can be common and fixed if you catch it early enough, which is another reason it is important to listen to your body. One of the biggest cause of hurting knees is a flaw in your running form. There are two main causes for this, one is over striding and the other is hip adduction — when your thigh moves inward from the hip during your midstride, which causes a knock-kneed effect.
Muscle imbalance is another cause of aching knees after you run. If your muscles are not strong enough to support the knee, such as doing a one-leg squat without wobbling, then you need to work on your strength training. Make sure to focus on strengthening your hips and glutes if this is something you experience.
Unfortunately, women experience more knee pain than men, but researchers do not completely understand why. One theory is the women’s alignment of the lower extremities put them more susceptible to injury. Also, a difference in connective-tissue may play a role in the increased pain as well.
Sometimes researchers still do not understand what causes knee pain after running. There are many variables when it comes to pain, such as nutrition, sleep quality, and even the fear of getting injured may increase pain. It is important to listen to your body, take rests when needed, and see the doctor if the pain persists.
Running Surface Does Matter
When it comes to joint wear and tear, the surface you run on does matter. If you are concerned about your joints, have had a recent injury, or want to go easy on them, consider running on softer surfaces, such as a track. Asphalt can also be considered a softer surface or a well-maintained dirt trail works as well. While these surfaces may slow you down, they will absorb shock and be easier on your joints.
Protecting Your Joints
There are ways you can protect your joints so you can keep running and minimize injuries. Things to keep in mind during your running journey include your stride, body mechanics, weight, your running shoes, and varying the routine.
If you are noticing pain in your knees or other joints, check your stride as it may need to be shortened. Just a five to 10 percent increase in a stride can increase your joint load up to 20 percent, which is a large amount for such a small increase. Try to get 160 to 190 steps per minute as you run, which means you may mean you need to shorten your stride. Keep an eye on how your foot hits the ground because changing your foot strike can affect your Achilles tendon.
Having the mechanics of your running checked by a physiotherapist can be beneficial in seeing if you over stride, have hip adduction, or other issues you may not be able to spot. Once the physiotherapist finds mechanics that are out of the norm, they can provide you with information and exercises on how to correct them.
Weight plays a role in how much pressure is put on your joints. One study showed that a reason runners complained of joint pain as they aged because of weight gain. Increased weight can increase the risk of injury in runners, especially in the knees.
There are a multitude of running shoes available depending on what type of cushioning and stability you need. Use a running shoe finder to find the right ones for you. If you are running in shoes that are too worn or old, you may be at increased risk for injury.
Don’t run in the same place and the same way every day because this also puts your joints at risk. Change the surface you run on, the route, and your tempo regularly. The varied movements and routine will put less strain on your joints and tissues.
Is Running Bad for Your Joints?
Running being bad for your joints is a myth. Running can benefit your knees and joints as long as it is done correctly. Running and regular activity can keep your joints healthy and allow them to move more freely as you age. Watch your form, mechanics, and regularly purchase new running shoes. If you do find yourself with joint pain, take a day or two off from running so your body can heal properly.