Non-runners sometimes misunderstand distance runners. They can’t, for the life of them, understand why we happily spend countless hours trucking around town in rain, in the dark, in snow and ice, braving speeding cars and barking dogs. And what about OUR KNEES? Don’t we know that running wrecks our joints?!?
My hunch is that every distance runner has fielded this inevitable question from a non-runner, at some point. And how should you respond to such concern? With the truth. Running does not hurt our knees. Say it, and say it proudly. Need proof? For one, you can point to a 2013 study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise. It found that the thousands of runners studied over a decade had lower risk of osteoarthritis and lower risk for hip replacement than non-runners. And, the runners who ran the most were at the lowest risk. In fact, studies suggest that jogging can help your joints. In one study, Swedish researchers took one group of people at risk of osteoarthritis and had them engage in exercise, including jogging. The other group didn’t exercise. After imaging the joints of the participants in both study groups, they found that the cartilage actually appeared to improve in those participants who were running.
Even though running, in itself, is not bad for knees, you can obviously still damage your knees while running. So what are some things that could increase the chance of knee injury during running?…Overdoing it, running form, ignoring pain, or another underlying problem such as a muscle imbalance or lack of flexibility, being genetically dispositioned to have osteoarthritis, and…This is an important one…obesity.
Perhaps, in terms of knee health, we can point to the fact that the more overweight one is in general, the worse off that person’s knees are. Let’s focus our concern on the epidemic of obesity in this country and what it’s doing to our joints…and our health. Obesity, not running, is a real culprit here.
So, fellow runners…Keep running, and know that you’re doing your body, and your knees, good.