Thursday, May 29, 2014

Kneed I Remind You: Running Doesn't Kill Your Knees

I once again had to listen to someone who has only their shoulders to thank for not having their head further up their ass, tell me that running is bad for your knees. *collective sigh from those who know better* 

I feel that those who want to believe this will continue to believe it regardless of all the proof in the world.  However, I also know my website gets read thousands of times per month and hopefully by new runners looking for information. As such, I don’t mind putting this out there again for them to read.  In fact, let me break it down into a list for those of you who like lists.

1. Across the board, non-runners get arthritis in their knees just as often as runners. And possibly more.

In fact, if anything, long-term studies have found that runners have less incidence of knee osteoarthritis. One study which took place over two decades found while 20% of the runners developed arthritis during that time, 32% of the nonrunners did. I can only do math when I am converting miles to kilometers in a foreign soil race but I do know greater than and less than.  

Furthermore, another study which looked at both runners and walkers found that regular runners had roughly half the rate of arthritis as regular walkers. In that second study, the runners with the highest regular mileage had the lowest rate of arthritis. Now, this doesn't advocate that the more miles you run is better, and I am strict opponent of the high mileage game, but it is hard to argue that running causes arthritis.

2. Age affects knees the same in both runners and non-runners with regards to arthritis

There's no evidence that running accelerates the loss of cartilage, including that in the knees. You know what does? Living long and/or not taking care of yourself. So, you can chose to stop living and stop taking care of yourself if you are worried that eventually you might lose some cartilage. Seem ridiculous? About as ridiculous as not running to prevent it as well. In fact, one study found that when people who were at risk of developing arthritis began a moderate running program, the health of their cartilage improved, while the cartilage of a group of similar people who didn't start running didn't improve.

3. Supplements won't re-grow knee cartilage.

No dietary supplements have been proven to increase knee cartilage. The most popular such supplement, glucosamine, seems to have no structural benefit whatsoever.  In addition, a study that looked at vitamin D supplementation in people who had knee arthritis found that they had the same levels of pain and loss of cartilage after two years as did people with arthritis who didn't take vitamin D. The only D Vitamin good for you is Vitamin Dane. I suggest you take it often. I do.

4. Runner's knee is usually caused by issues elsewhere.

The most common knee injury among runners is runner's knee (chondromalacia) or inflammation of the cartilage under your kneecap. Most sports medicine professionals feel many people with runner's knee have a few common biomechanical problems. These include weak hips and glutes, which start the chain reaction down the leg; weak quadriceps, which can make it difficult for the kneecap to track properly; and tight hamstrings, which shift some of running's impact to the knees. 

That is why, even though I average about 2500 miles of running a year, and my quads are my engine, I still need to hit the gym, cross-train, and strengthen my stems. I do not think it a coincidence that my quads look like this and I have never had a hint of knee pain, even with my 149th marathon approaching this weekend.

5. Happy Up Your Knees

As noted above, weakness and/or tightness elsewhere in your legs can mean trouble for your knees. So get stronger and healthier. Extra weight places tremendous strain on your knees. The American College of Sports Medicine has said that each additional pound of body mass puts four extra pounds of stress on the knee. Science, yo.

As such, you can see how running, which helps keep weight lower (as do many other exercises) could easily be the reason why, as I mentioned above, runners have less incidence of knee arthritis.

Now, if you already have knee pain, well, that sucks. I can see why you would not want to run. Earlier this year I was having severe problems in my calf muscle in my left leg. I later learned it stemmed from a herniated disk from a bike crash. But it hurt to run. As such, I did not want to do so.  You can see how I am not someone telling you to suck it up and run anyway if you are in pain.  If something is not enjoyable you won't do it.
So take your time, lose weight, strengthen your legs, and make your knees a happy place. Hopefully you are not at a point where pain is a big part of your life.  But if you are, the key is to take it slow and pay special attention to make your entire body stronger.

And if someone persists on telling you how running damages your knee, please just show them this route I mapped out the other day in Portland.-------------------------->


TFMM said...

Great article and even better route. So true but also much ignored in regard to strengthening the other muscles in order to minimize extra pressure on the knees

Anonymous said...

Great post. I had a doctor one tell me that since I was having knee pain I shouldn't run anymore...ever. I never saw him again.

Regarding the weight gain: I was obese before. And it's funny, once I reached 212 pounds, I could no longer walk up stairs without pain in my knees, but at 211, I could. So weird.

Cecil said...

How can I sum this up.....AWESOME! I have a friend that kept telling me how bad running is for me beyond 3-5 miles, yet when I went to sign up for my 1st half marathon so did he. And as I was talking about running my 1st 21 mile trail run he wanted to do it. And as I talked about attempting my 1st marathon, and am now signed up for my 1st 50k in a few months he wants to help me train for it.

Well, you have a fan here in the form of the Dreadmill Drummer.

Runaway Bridal Planner said...

Nicely put! I get so annoyed when people start the running is going to ruin your knees rant.