The sentence that everybody who even contemplates running dreads has to be running is bad for your knees? More often than not, this is said by non-runners!
We are led to believe that running is the devil’s sport; it is boring, doesn’t burn fat and messes up your knees!
If you have been avoiding running due to this common misconception, you may want to think again. The negative long-term impact running has on joints is wildly overstated, possibly even downright wrong.
As a human, running is one of the most natural movements you can do, joints are meant to move, and research consistently shows that running a lot actually improves knee health.
In saying this, there is a condition called Runners Knee which we will look at down below. But first, a quick anatomy lesson to make things easier to understand.
Understanding the Anatomy Of The Knee
Understanding how your knees work makes it easier to see how problems happen.
The knee contains two types of cartilage. One of these enables bones to glide past one another by coating the surface.
Stress or misalignment can cause this cartilage to wear away. This results in bones rubbing together creating pain and possibly leading to arthritis.
The second type of cartilage is the meniscus which acts as a shock absorber.
The ligaments in and around the knee are what stabilize and hold your knee together. There is on the outside and one inside which stops your knee from collapsing and tow on either side which stop it from moving side to side.
A tear or strain is often the result of a sideways collision or wrong step. Women are much more prone to tears in the ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) – one of the stabilizing ligaments.
The muscles that control your knee are your hamstrings, which is behind your knee and quadriceps which are located at the front.
What is Runner’s Knee
Pain in the knee is common enough in people who run to have an injury coined Runner’s Knee.
Also known as patellofemoral pain syndrome or PPS, this type of injury is characterized by pain which is found around the knee cap at the front of the knee. Squatting, running, bending or going downstairs can bring on the pain.
This can be a sharp pain and may cause day to day activities to become difficult.
Usually, this pain is caused by a muscle imbalance and not any structural damage to the knee area. Runners often develop a tightness in the muscle that moves the hip forwards.
Lateral muscles that control the mobility of the hip are weaker through being generally underused. These muscles are imperative in stabilizing the knees and pelvis while running.
How Can Pounding on Your Knee Joints Actually Be Good for You
Any weight bearing exercise increases mass and muscle, making them much stronger over a period of time.
When running, thousands of tiny tears happen in the fibre, these go on to generate and repair themselves.
This causes the tissue to become healthier, stronger and builds more mass in the tissue.
During a run, the cartilage in the knee is repaired at the same time releasing certain chemicals which strengthen the cartilage.
This is not suggesting that you will never get an injury while you are running. If you are starting out running, you will need to take some things into consideration.
If you have ever had surgery or any other significant injury to the knee, this may mean that the knee joint is not working the same as it once was.
Caution must be taken by people who are overweight by 20 pounds or more. Running while carrying extra weight will stress the joints, increasing the risk of damage and knee inflammation.
For this group of people, losing enough weight for the joints to support you running is a good idea. When started running and you are finding yourself with knee pain, a good physiotherapist should be your first point of contact.
Benefits of Running Outweigh the Risks of Not Running
The consensus is that there are more benefits to running than not. If you have knee problems due to running do it in moderation.
There is no need for a 2-hour run when 30-45 minutes is sufficient. Running every day isn’t a necessity, it can be incorporated into your fitness regime and combined with other types of exercise.
There are many benefits to running. Both males and females who run stand a much less chance of developing osteoarthritis compared to non-runners and sedentary people.
Reduction of Inflammation
Data from recent research shows that after running for 30 minutes, pro-inflammatory markers decrease.
Researchers expected to see an increase in the markers but were pleasantly surprised with the results of the blood samples they had taken.
All the results pointed to running being good for your knees and other joints.
Preparation Before Running to Protect Your Knee Joints
To prevent any injuries to the knees, appropriate steps must be taken to prepare for a run. A series of good stretches should precede running and will prepare the joints for increased effort.
A lot of amateur runners fail to do any preparation and start off too fast. Running style can greatly affect the knees.
If you have sore or injured knees, seek help from a sports clinic who can help you correct your technique.
Direct contributors to injuries to the knee are weight, jogging surface and even diet.
Getting this right from the start will ensure that any risk of injuries to the knees is minimized.
Build up your running regime, it is not going to help if you go from getting up to walk to the kitchen to attempting to run 10 miles on the first go.
Build up to your goal slowly to prevent injury to your knees. Be realistic and pay attention to what your body is telling you.
The human body is amazing and is able to adapt to stress that we tend to put ourselves through over time.
By taking it slow, our bones and ligaments will not be overwhelmed and will build up.
Improving the Condition of Joints
During a run, knees are exposed to an excessive burden on the joints. To prevent this, knees joints should be strengthened.
The muscles surrounding the knee joint, the quadriceps femoris and biceps femoris, should be strong enough to increase the stability of the knee joint, therefore, protecting from injury.
In order to improve or prevent knee joint pain, supplements may be taken. A supplement which contains chondroitin sulphate and hyaluronic acid can be very useful.
The Importance of Running Shoes
Running is an extremely popular sport due to the fact that it is free, we can run anywhere, whenever we want with little preparation.
In order to make running more comfortable for your knee joints, it is imperative to make sure we have the correct shoes which are properly fitted.
Choosing everyday sneakers is a mistake as they do not have the construction that relieves the legs during the run. The wrong shoes can have negative consequences on knee joints as well as feet and spine.
Having shoes fitted by a professional should be something every runner does. They offer diagnostic tests which can offer running and gait analysis on a podometric track.
that makes sure that you end up with the best running shoes for you. When shopping for running shoes to protect your knee joints follow the three rules below.
- Get shoes fitted in the afternoon when your legs tend to be slightly swollen and tired. These conditions are similar to when you are running, and your foot is tired.
- The shoe should have some reserve for the big toe so it should be slightly larger than the foot to provide for this. Footwear designed for sports is made out of non-stretchable and durable material, so it is not expected that the shoe stretches to accommodate the foot.
- Depending on whether you run on forest paths, the beach or asphalt, you need to choose the correct shoe. Lightweight running shoes are used for asphalt and have a high cushioning factor. Cross country shoes have additional reinforcements on the upper and a thicker sole to provide cushioning and stability.
Correct Running Techniques
Avoid Heel Strike
To avoid heel strike, lean from your ankles and open your stride up behind you. Your feet need to land beneath you, not in front of you.
Major impact happens to your knees when your feet land in front of you and you over stride. Legs need to swing behind, not forward as this will send major shock to your knees which are not shock absorbers. This impact over time can cause muscle soreness or joint pain.
Make Sure Your Feet Point in The Direction You Are Running
While this may seem obvious, it is a very common mistake people make. By splaying your feet, knee pain can be created due to twisting your knee with every foot strike.
Rotate your leg inward towards your centerline. Your feet need to be pointing forward and parallel.
By doing this, you are strengthening your adductors which realigns your legs.
Instead of twisting when they bend, your knees will hinge in the direction that they were meant to.
Another problem from foot splay is inflammation of the iliotibial band which is attached to your tibia below the knee.
Knee problems are often confused with misalignment of the legs. The biomechanics of your body needs to be changed which can take time and patience but will keep any knee pain away, so persistence is key.
Preventative Knee Exercise
If you do find that you have pain in one knee, this exercise is highly recommended to reduce pain and strengthen leg muscles.
This exercise should be performed 7 times a week for a month and then 3 times per week on a regular basis. Be sure to do two sets of 25 repetitions.
Sit on the floor with your back against a firm surface keeping your legs in front of you.
Point the foot up and press the knee down to the floor. This will tighten the muscle. Hold this for 5 seconds.
Slightly bend knee while pressing the heel down into the floor and towards the knee. This tightens the muscles behind the knee. Hold for this for 5 seconds.
Cover a towel with a tennis ball and place under the thigh and just above the knee which has the pain. Keep the knee straight as you raise the foot. Do not raise the thigh. Hold this for 5 seconds.
Keeping your foot on the surface, bend your good knee. Press the sore knee down keeping it straight. Hold your leg in this position while raising it into the air and hold this for 5 seconds.
While keeping the good knee bent, turn the foot of the sore leg outwards so that toes point to the side. Try to tighten the knee and lift the leg into the air. Hold for 5 seconds before returning to the starting position slowly.
So, there you have it. Generally running is not bad for your knees. It all comes down to a few factors such as genetic predisposition, weight, running technique and overall health.
Running will help patients who are possibly going to be arthritic in the future be much more active in their later years.
Due to the compressive motion caused by running, more fluid is brought to your knees which effectively keeps them moving.
As with anything, see your Doctor if you have any pain that is not going away or causing a lot of discomfort.
Also, if you are overweight or have other medical conditions, consult a medical professional before starting a running program.
Running is good for the mind, body and soul. So, there is no excuse for you not to lace up those running shoes and hit the pavement. You will be much better for it and may even end up loving it!