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Want To Avoid Knee Problems? Start Running!

By , SparkPeople Blogger
It's something I've heard for years: "All of that running is going to kill your knees. You should find some other lower-impact exercises instead." Although it's a common perception that running will negatively affect your knee joints and likely leave you hobbling around in your later years, does research support that idea? Not necessarily.

A study published in the journal Skeletal Radiology examined runners knees before and after a marathon, and then again 10 years later. They found no new damage to the knee joint after 10 years, and even concluded that continuous exercise (such as running) might be more protective than damaging to the knees. Would you have thought that running might actually help your knees?

A Stanford University study followed distance runners for a period of 20 years. They found the runners' knees were healthier and less arthritic than the control group. An additional study in The Journal of Joint and Bone Surgery concluded that "by moving and loading your knee joint, as you do when walking or running, you “condition” your cartilage to the load. It grows accustomed to those particular movements." This conditioning might actually help protect against arthritis.

The best way to prevent knee problems is to avoid injury in the first place. Previous injury significantly increases the chance of injury in the future. You can help prevent injury by avoiding overtraining, increasing mileage slowly, and strength training regularly.

So far, I've been lucky enough to avoid serious injuries in my running career. I always joke that if I'm still running when I'm 60 (which I intend to be), I've got a chance to qualify for the Boston Marathon. (The qualifying time for a 60-year old woman is 4 hours and 30 minutes.) The results of these studies give me hope that I won't have to find a new passion when my body decides it's had enough pounding on the pavement.

What do you think? Do the results of these studies surprise you?

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ROBBIEY 5/2/2021
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DEE107 4/17/2021
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ARNETTELEE 12/25/2020
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DJ4HEALTH 11/10/2020
Wish that I could but was in a bad car accident in 1976 and it messed my knee up and had it replaced in 2009. Not allowed to run with a TKR. Report
SOOKIE 10/10/2020
I started running in 2019 at age 52. Love it! Report
CECELW 8/17/2020
I'm definitely not a runner Report
PATRICIAAK 8/17/2020
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ISNESS 6/27/2020
I agree! In my young years, I had knee pain and a Plica synovial surgery, I stopped eating pork and started running, knee were swollen, but the.body deals with it, and everything normalizes. No worries about damaging joints! Thx good information. Report
Thank You...……….. Report
What a great article Report
I wish I'd read this decades ago bc now that I have diagnosed arthritis in my knee plus a torn meniscus, I've been told by 3 drs and a PT that I absolutely shouldnt run. I am 60 and have been more of a walker than runner over the years, but if I'd run more, maybe my knee wouldve stayed healthier! Report
Thanks for the great information! :) Report
Good to know, thanks. Report
Interesting and good information. Report
Its good to hear since i started to run. I have had a knee injury before so that would was good new to my ear that it might help me from possibly injuring it again. Report
Everyone is different, my knees hurt before I lost weight and even now they hurt just as bad as they did then. Running couldn't possibly help me at this point. I do however walk and try for 10,000 steps a day with one day off. Report
I have arthritis and fibromyalgia and I run. I love it. The best part is if I am working out hard and running, my symptoms from both diseases completely disappear. Report
I agree to this. Ever since i started running, my "knee pain" slowly disappeared. Report
I have begun the couch to 5k program. I am excited every day that I complete. Yesterday I did day 2 of week 2 so I am very excited about that!!! Report
Thanks for the leads on the articles. For the purposes of the dailyblog, there are obvious space constraints and I would love to look at these studies in their entireity along with their secondary studies to back these primary research pieces up. Report
"A Stanford University study followed distance runners for a period of 20 years. They found the runners' knees were healthier and less arthritic than the control group."

I think studies like these are misleading. Runners are a self-selected group, who may choose to run because their knees are in good condition. Why were they non-runners non-runners? Because their knees were already in bad shape? It's too easy to confuse correlation with cause.

I've always HATED running, but I recently started this program to lose a little weight:
. I'm on week 3 of the Couch-to-5K program and love it so far. It's excellent for beginners! Report
I want to start running but should I start running in a indoor track, I am heavy and had a tore ACL about two yeras ago and at times it hurts, but ID like to start a running routine for the first time? Report
This definitely does surprise me. I have read article upon article that walking is much better for you than running. I gave up running because of that. I do believe I may start walking again. Report
I wonder if the same holds true for the hip joint. I had mine replaced 13 years ago and have had reconstruction on the same hip twice since. I've been walking regularly but the Dr forbids running because of the impact.

These findings come as little surprise to me. My knees used to bother me every night but since I've been walking regularly for a couple of years I seldom have pain unless I am in the car for a long period of time. thanks for the article. Report
this was definitely surprising... i must be doing something wrong then 'cause every time i run for two days in a row, my knee starts to hurt, i usually have to let it rest for two or three days in between... Report
(Oops! Double-clicked submit.) (^_^) Report
I would have to respectfully disagree with this article and the test results.

I used to run a great deal. Running continuous 9 minute miles were nothing to me. I would carry on a conversation and not think twice about it. Then, as I began weight training and putting on muscle, I went from 155 lbs (and I was 6' 5''!) to a very lean 215 lbs. No matter how you slice it, your joints - knees and ankles - and feet simply don't like it when you throw another 60 lbs on them, albeit muscle or fat, and expect them to perform as they always have.

Each time I tried to run (using the correct shoe) it became agony. My knees and ankles would ache for days! In the end, I opted for cycling and that has been my saving grace for the last 15 years. Report
Thought provoking article- thanks.
I haven't really been exercising on a regular basis until this year. I usually run or walk on a treadmill and noticed that when I don't practice this form of exercise for more than a couple of days my knees start feeling really wobbly. I thought it was because of the running but I guess not. I also heard that wearing really high heels on a constant basis can cause weak knees. Report
I recently read two articles about runners who developed knee problems due to running and the reason was because of weak hamstrings. Report
Ok, so 3 yrs ago,I was a truck driver/delivery person; and I popped my knee backward while loading bumbers into my truck. I do a LOT of walking now, and find that I have to be careful a lot of the time. Mostly that's consentrating on the position and making a full circle of motion with my knee. I think that if I were careful, I could see how building the supportive muscles around my knee would be benificial. HOWEVER, I was also a housekeeper for 17 years, through 4 pregnancies. During that time my disks became herniated, and in the subsequent years the disks have disappeared, compacting and almost fusing the L4,L5, and S1 vertibrae in my back. (Maybe they are by now.) I've been told that running (as much as I loved it in my youth) is not recommended. Is there new research to dispell that? I am SO tempted by all the articles about interval training, and the idea of being able to fit 'more' workout into my alotted time. I don't want to approach my old(er) age with self-inflicted injuries. Report
I've considered starting running, but since I'm in my mid-forties and about 30 pounds overweight, I've been worried about possible damage if I don't do it right.

Nope, I'm not at all suprised, and BTW, I was almost 60 when I first took up running. I have old injuries to both knees, one from a bike accident as a kid and the other from a skating tumble when I was in my 20s. I think joint stess is a function of bad form, not high impact exercise per se. Running to improve joint function take a bit more than just putting one foot in front of the other. It also requires core stability, balance, and proper distribution of weight and impact with each footfall. Report
Very surprising indeed... I have been on hiatus from my run program BECAUSE of a knee injury. So this was an interesting discovery. Report
I just started a running program and one of the things a family member told me was it will hurt my knees. Based on attitude alone, I got the feeling I'm bordering on lunatic in their opinion. This posting really boosts my thoughts about it. I'm starting slow as I've never done anything like this but I would like to build a program I can continue for years. Report
I have been an orthopedic nurse for 18 yrs. Never have any of my patients who have had knee replacements (and I've taken care of numerous) ever said their surgery was due to running. But I can tell you almost all of them were overweight. Many times needing both knees operated on. I'm not a runner but do cardio exercise 3 times a week. I have had knee surgery (torn ACL and MCL) from a skiing accident. This is great news to me. I will be discussing starting a running program with my physican! Report
Thank you for all the great comments.

As some have stated; most running injuries are caused by repetitive stress and impact on the body. This excess repetitive stress and impact is caused by position and motion inconsistent with our anatomy or if opposing forces of nature. We are all designed to run; and there is evidence that when we did hunt it was strategic running endurance that wore out the hunted. And we did not necessarily sprint the hunted down. Anyway you look at it, we are designed to sprint over short distances with one form (short duration results in minimal repetitive stress and impact) and designed to run longer distances with a different form. Animals in nature do the same thing. They adjust technique for speed and terrain for efficiency and injury-prevention; otherwise they perish. They instinctively know that their mobility is directly tied to their longevity. I will suggest that we are no different. So if we want to run or walk consistently without discomfort/aches/pain/injury, we best work on technique to make sure we are using our anatomical design properly AND we are cooperating with very big forces of nature.

Re: knees; in order for them to be healthy we definitely need to use them. Here is an article to consider if you have knee pain or injury:

More information on ChiRunning principles and resources here:

ChiRunning®/ChiWalking® are the combination of the principles and inner focus of T'ai Chi with running/walking. The result is postural alignment and motion based on the body's design, simple principles of nature and laws of physics.

David Stretanski
Certified ChiRunning®/ChiWalking® Instructor
I've had 4 knee surgeries, 2 on each knee. My doctor advised against running, but kept telling me to lose weight to help my knees. That was 3 years ago, I am running 20 - 25 miles a week, and have not experienced even one bit of knee pain since I started. I will be a runner for life, not only for the weight loss (45 pounds) but to keep my knees healthy! Report
I'm not against running, but they do fail to state the ages of the participants in this study. Perhaps in that time span and with a younger age range there is noticeable difference, but over a longer time, how could something so jarring not wear the joints faster. I heard in the last 5 years something about how runners are at a higher risk for needing hip replacement in later years since our bones are not designed to last as long as we are living, added stress to the body diminishes their (bones) lifespan quickly. Of course there's other variables such as the type of runner studied, support of shoes they wear and if they're using good form can all impact results, etc.. I'm not a scholar on this at all, but I personally am taking this study lightly. Report
I had friends in high school on the track team that really pushed themselves too far when running. They are in their mid 20s now and have horrible knees. I think it's all about how you take care of your body - whether you're overweight, or you work out obsessively. There's a wide span of happy medium we can all fall into. Each of us needs to find our own fitness and weight levels that suit us. Report
These study results do surprise me. I've just started jogging but don't do it everyday so that I can save the wear and tear on the knees and hips. Perhaps I'll increase it now. Report
I am 65 and many of my friends have either had knee or hip replacements or are experiencing significant problems with them. I have begun hiking and running barefoot. A new book borne to run puts the blame for the epidemic ( my word) of joint replacements directly on the running shoe industry. I am having great success in increased flexibility and building up my tolerance of the bottoms of my feet. If you are having problems with knees or hips you should try walking or running barefoot. I can promise you that you will put a lot less wear on your joints if you walk or run barefoot. Running improperly, or the same way you do with shoes, while barefoot hurts terribly and you will stop long before it damages your joints. Your foot placement is very gentile and careful. You have a coach on the end of each foot that lets you know when you are doing it properly.

Good Luck

Good Luck Report
This doesn't really surprise me. Our muscles quickly atrophy with disuse, so it would seem that the weightbearing exercise our joints are designed for would actually strengthen them. Now if you had said to take up crawling, I would have doubted you. I am pretty sure carpet installers (or others who have occupations where they spend a great deal of time bearing weight on the flexed knee) have many more knee problems than runners. Report
My brother in law is a doctor and says that running may eventually cause knee problems. He said that he treats many people in their 40's+ who were runners and now have knee and ankle problems. Report
But what about if you're very much overweight? (Say around 60lbs overweight?) Running uphill and on flat land doesn't bother me too much, but when running downhill, even with a slight slope, my knees feel like they are about to break! I never had a knee problem before and they don't bother me at any other time, so I assume that it is the weight and the impact that they can't take :'-( Report
I've read about it other places and printed it out to put on the bulletin board at my local Y. As I runnner I hear it all the time too..and I love showing people things that show running isn't bad for them. Thanks again for a great article! Report
Amazing! Not only did these results surprise me but they knocked me off my previously-held position that runners were sowing the seeds of future knee problems . . . something I used to constantly worry about in the case of my daughter who is forced to run all the time to keep up her military physical fitness requirements. Boy was I relieved to read this article!!!!

Thank you for taking such a big load of worry off my Maternal shoulders. LOL
Seriously, I do appreciate it very much! Report