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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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I've always thought injury fallacies to be put about by non-exercisers to excuse their laziness. Look at triathlon and ironmen - they have people doing it for years and years. there's 70 year olds in the ironman circuit.

They seem fine! Report
I'm not surprised about article AND what GYMRAT08 is hearing back from doctors. High impact sports are supposed to aid in a higher bone density in younger people because of the demand on bones, which should over time, create stronger knees. On the flip side, how many people that go to a doctor for running injuries are not using proper form or wearing good shoes? These are essential and most marathoners should know this, so there might be fewer problems among that demographic. Report
I'm at my goal weight (5'6" and 160 lbs) and just started a walk-run-walk routine with my hubby, 3x per week. The rest of the days of the week, I walk, and I have a strength training routine. (In winter, I use an elliptical in lieu of the walking.) I don't think I'll be a marathoner, but I'm enjoying the little bit of running that I'm doing. I'm 44, and I haven't run regularly since I was in high school. It's a nice change from the walking and the elliptical. I don't know about the article, but personally I'm going to pay attention to my body and how it feels as I increase the amount that I run each week. I don't want to cause any permanent damage, so if I have good shoes and good form, I should not have pain. If I do, I'm going to stop running! Walking does not cause me any pain at all, and neither does the elliptical. So I can always fall back on those cardio routines. Report
I forwarded this article to all my doctor cousins and uncles as well as my orthopaedic surgeon friends. Got back a barrage of emails saying this was NOT their experience. They do not recommend running except on treadmills which minimize the pounding. They say most of us run on concrete and road surfaces and this is bad for feet, knees, hips, backs etc. in the long run. I agree with some of the other posters that perhaps studying marathoners is less important to us at SP than studying relative running newbies and following them for the next 10 years. Report
I'd like to see more research supporting that it is better for your knees. I have seen many patients with knee issues due to years of running. I guess everyone is different, but in general, I'd say the runners I have seen had more issues than walkers. Report
This information is good to know. My goal is to be able to run again. I use to run cross country in school my years ago, but can't now due to my size. This is very important to me...the thought of never running again is enough to keep me on the right path to getting the weight off. Thanks everyone for posting Report
Very surprising...guess we never know as much as we think! :) Thanks for a great article! I'm a walker and have just started to "try running", in part to Karvy09's inspirational blog. The information in my head was obviously "outdated!" Report
I think one thing this post leaves out is for beginners to start slow. I fractured my hip a long while ago, but I started running very slowly at in January. Now I'm up to 4 miles running with no hip pain.

My beginning routine was a follows:
January = walk 5 minutes run 1 minute. I kept alternating until I had completed 2 miles
February= walk 5 minues run 2 minutes
March=walk 5 minutes run 3 minutes
April=walk 5 minutes run 4 minutes
May=walk 5 minutes run 5 minutes. half way through May, I decided to see how far I could run just for kicks and I ran 2 miles with no aches or problems. Report
I, personally, have a hard time believing that running is not hard on the joints. Especially for someone who is overweight or obese. I would give my eye-teeth to be able to run again but I have 2 bad knees. Arthritis in both of them. I think I got it because the type of work I did involved heavy lifting.

The best way to keep legs (knee's included!) in good shape is by excercising them. And there are plenty of excercises one can do that doesn't involve pounding them unmercifully on a hard surface! Report
Unfortunately I have bad knees already, especially my left one that needs surgery. I have been an extreme walker in the past, and I do hope to be able to get back out there soon; as a matter of fact I plan to start back up this week, TODAY. Report
I'm really glad to hear this!
I'm a runner and will be 60 in a couple of weeks. No problems so far and I hope to continue into my 80's... Wife is mid 50's, not a runner, and has knee trouble.. Report
As long as I'm still FAT, I know I won't be doing running. When I get down to about 120#, then I will work on it. COVERT BAILEY in "FIT OR FAT" gives instructions on running "Wind Sprints" and building up your cells to run, and I know I will NEED to do that. The Sprints are 10 seconds of FASTING WALKING. I will start with that. Report
It does surprise me. But that's good. I have recently decided to start adding some running to my walking, in 3 minute increments. I wasn't sure if I should, because of the knee thing. But glad to hear that in the long run, running can actually help my knees. Report
this is a really good thing to see because I am told the same thing so often. I run an average of 30-50 miles/week and marathon. I am looking to start trialthloning so I can get more cross training in, but in any case: SO glad that a new study is supporting running... Report
I'm not so sure about this. My nearly 70 year old health nut Dad ran for the better part of 30 years and now has no meniscus to speak of. My orthopedist told me that my knees track inward (as do my mother's) and that running is a bad idea for someone with that problem. I'm having arthroscopic surgery on my meniscus this Wednesday due to a Taekwondo injury (be careful with those pivots!) and am looking at my knees in a whole new light at the age of 37. I've got to treat them nicely for a long time ahead! Report
Wow, that's amazing and good to know! One of the reasons I've put off running (I've actually made it a reward for getting to my scale goal of under 200 pounds) is because I was worried about joint damage! This DailySpark blog helps me add one more reason to be excited about my reward! Report
I'd have to read the study too. Right off the bat I'd like to see how this handle injury. Basicly if injury is one of the worse things that can happen to your knees how is it the runners they study had a lower injury rate then none runners? I'd have to agree with others and it would be because of the people they select where exceptional and not the norm. Maybe these people would have had great knees even if they hadn't run.

Also was there any kind of data on runner who started running once their knees show signs of issue? Did those who started out with issues have less damage down the line compared to a like group who had the same issue but didn't run? I personally suspect the articles have misrepresented the true study conclusion (That happens a lot). Or the study itself was poorly done (That also happen more often then most people know). Report
I would want to read the study methodology carefully. There are many things that could account for the findings, not possible to tell from a summary of the results. For one, the people who manage to last as distance runners for ten years may have better running form, or may do extra support exercises to balance out their musculature, be physically built in such a way that their body is better suited to the pounding, eat better than the average population, or be better at choosing shoes and that's why they've stayed able to run distance for so long ... Having a family of distance runners, and choosing not to be one myself because my observation is that most end up with injuries, hip replacements, and so on despite having real trainers and running groups to support them (in other words, I've been around people training for/placing well in the boston marathon, hawaii ironman). And, their shelves are filled with 'how to recover from injuries' books. Not saying it's the fault of running at all, just that it is an interesting result and makes me curious about how the scientists came up with it, and what they are doing as a follow-on. And which subset of the population it applies to. However, I will say that runners in my family are in better overall health than those who do nothing to improve their fitness, so perhaps it is worth it to them despite the injuries :) Thanks for posting! Report
I have always thought that running would have an adverse effect on a very old knee injury. Walking can sometimes be an issue. But I may just give it a go, in small doses. Jog to the end of the street, then build up gradually.
(May have to fasten my boob down first though or i could be courting other injuries) Report
I know when I was running I felt a lot better. I am certainly going to get back into running. I think those who have problems related to running years later probably ignored then injuries. Any activity can injure your body...but if you follow doctors orders instead of thinking you should just work through it you shouldn't have any long term problems. Report
I've lost 150 pounds since bypass surgery and I feel really great! There are days when I simply MUST get out of the house and move!! On those days, I try a little jogging. About the best I've been able to do is about .25 miles. But, from reading these comments along with this article, I think I have the answer - I have to concentrate on core strength - THEN, start to run! I am eager to start running and will see if there are any short running competitions in my area to set as a goal. Thanks to all for the comments - and, of course, the story. Report
Yes I was interested to see these comments too. I have resumed training for Triathlons after 20 years.Its taken a year but now Im training 5-6 days a week. At 52 I have far less trouble with my knees, despite being 15kgs heavier, and I think its all to do with warming up properly, listening to my body and not over-doing things. I cant run as fast but I recover better and Im enjoying running so much more. I am a big believer in stretching after running too, something I never did when I was younger. As always everyone is different and its about getting the right formula for you ...happy running
Cheers Morgyporgs Report
The key is that they looked at RUNNERS... able to run marathons, which implies some level of fitness as well as good technique/form. The good form is crucial to avoiding injury, in my honest opinion.

I have been struggling to start jogging, just because my form SUCKS! So, I walk... any errand within 1 mile is a definite walking event here... even going to get groceries has become a walking chore, unless cases of water or other bulky/heavy purchases are being made! In the past year, I've lost 52 pounds!

I'll keep on trying to jog, and maybe someday, I'll be a real runner. But for now, I'm walking, and that's working!

Ann Report
It's interesting but it seems like all the runners I know have either knee, ankle, or foot injuries. And ALL of them have problems taking the doctor's advice and resting long enough to allow the injuries to heal. Report
It sounds to me like what they should be studying isn't the knees but the feet. I've been a runner in the past, during my late 20's early 30's and when I was diagnosed at age 34 with OA I was told to quit all impact exercising. The arthritis is in my spine. Recently I had my knees xrayed because of an injury and at age 49 I was told I have beautiful knees, hardly any OA!

But my feet, oh the pain just in walking 3 - 4 miles a day! I'd love to start running again but my feet couldn't possibly take the pounding. I suffer terribly from tendinitis, worse in my right foot, every step is painful and I'm supposed to stop, I've tried, but sometimes the weather is more conducive to a walk than a bike ride. Report
I like this. I love to run but I always feared hurting my knees. Not any more. Time to go running. Report
I think the key is the prevention of injury in the first place. When I started running, I began to feel some weakness in my left knee which may have been due to some previous injury. After consulting with my Dr., we determined it was a soft tissue injury and decided the best course of action was to minimize the running for a time (but elliptical was OK) and focus on strength training in my quads, hamstrings and calves which would help to protect the knee. Haven't had a problem since. To me, strength training is a MAJOR component of my running. Ab/core work is also essential. Report
I love running. Report
This news does surprise me, since it seems I hear from so many people how terrible running can be. Despite all that, I've been trying to incorporate more jogging/running into my fitness routine and will continue doing so. Report
Good article; glad to know we are often more resiliant than expected. Great to know for *current* runners, but I somehow doubt it would do someone in her mid-50s much good to *start* running now, though (never was a runner). Too much residual damage from earlier problems, is my guess, but I'm trying a careful jog (using the couch-5k, without any expectation of running 5k!)
I tried to run this year using the couch to 5k system and it about killed my knee. No running for me. Report
This does surprise me. My Friend and I walked 2 miles, 5 days a week inside our church. Our knees were getting bad so we stopped. Now both of us have had to have knee replacements. I am obese, but she certainly wasn't. Could rounding four corners per quater mile caused the damage? I wish I knew. Don't mean to be negative. Just thinking out loud Report
This is really great news. As I am getting older, I have been a little more concerned that running will give me injuries. After reading this, I am feeling much better about continuing to do the things that make me healthy. I agree it is important to have the right shoes and the correct form. It's all about being responsible for our own well being. Report
I'm glad to learn that running may actually be benefical rather than harmful to the knees...... Too bad I don't run! Report
I agree with the previous posts - good shoes and good form are so important! I had to learn it the hard way. I also recommend ChiRunning:
I have become a runner and love it. I'd also heard for years about the "knee thing" but I've personally not had any problems... I actually feel stronger all 'round. This also correlates with an article from a year or so ago from Time magazine that discussed the benefits of running lasting into your 70s & 80s, even if you take it up in middle age.

For those who think this article and the studies that it is based on cannot be true, please understand that there are exceptions to every rule. I also think that concerns about weight and running are very valid ones, However, anecdotal evidence (ie. personal stories) do not refute the science. Report
I started having knee problems in high school, shortly after I started running. For a while I needed a knee brace whenever I was on my feet, and still had some pain. My orthopedic Dr. gave me a lit of exercises that were, good, bad, or neutral for my particular knee problem (patello-femoral syndrome). Running was on the "bad" list, so I stopped and switched to other forms of exercise and my knees got much better. They rarely bother me now. Report
I recently started running at age 62, just because I needed to step up the cardio. I think you either have strong knees or you don't. It is like a bad back or bad feet. There are things you can do to prevent these things but most of us are predisposed to something or another. Do what you can to help. Good shoes, good form or whatever it takes. But you need to do those things before the injuries. Later the damage is done. Happy running all. Report
Sorry, but my Sports Medicine doc does not recommend running. He says it's VERY hard on the knees. He recommends bicycling instead. He should know, he's a doctor. Report
The results do surprise me. I always heard that running particularly is rough on your joints and knees. Although I always thought excess weight over time is more damaging. My mom's had both knees replaced before age 65 for that reason. I am happy to know studies show running is not so damaging over time. I do like to run, and hope to do a half marathon in the next 5 years. Thanks for the good information! Report
Been running for years. No knee problems here. Report
Like others, I don't really believe this. I am retired military - use to run 5ks and 10ks in my 20's and 30's. I wore good shoes and followed proper training advice. I have knee pain. I've been told for many years now, that knee problems are a very common amongst the military population from all the years of running and marching. That said, my knee problems are a lot less prevalent with my weight down. I may go months without any pain and then all of a sudden in the middle of aerobics the pain will hit and last for several weeks. I take Aleve and push on. Report
I'm in the same boat as SPNANCY. I started running at 47 using Couch to 5K when I was pretty overweight. I was nervous about it because I've had knee problems in the past and was worried that I'd make them worse. Since I've been running I've not had ANY knee issues other than a minor bout of patellar tendonitis, which resolved quickly. Now I'm a 3-4 day a week runner and love it. It's been key to my weight loss. Report
Running or for me more like jogging is great cardio. At this point I'm walk/jogging as I train for the 3 miler at the convention. A good warm up before running and a nice stretch afterward will help avoid knee problems. Increasing mileage gradually is also another key. Proper hydration and having some nutrition a couple hours prior will be helpful too.
Deb Report
It is great to hear things like this as i have always wanted to run, since i have not run in my life was a bit scared to start at this time of life. But now i can do it without worrying!!... Report
Who was this study done on? Men? Women? Why then are athletes seen on television advertising the latest knee/joint replacements? Think about the pounds of stress placed on the joint - also the natural alignment of the femur/knee/tibia...This info you presented is truly slanted and not appropriate for everyone, especially women. Do a little more study, Nicole. Report
Well this gives me hope! I'm constantly being told I'm going to destroy my knees by running, but I'm not going to stop running, so it's kind of a moot point. Report
Great report to read! I am constantly debating the positivie effects of running and I hear all the "excuses" or discouragement possible: it's too cold or too hot or it's raining or snowing, I don't want to run alone, it's boring, it's bad for your back, I don't have the energy, I can't breathe when I run, I don't have stamina etc etc. But, one of the most common things I hear when I say I am a runner is it'll kill my knees. I am glad to read yet another piece of scientific data that refutes this misconception and will be happy to use it during my next debate!
Thanks! Report
I'm thrilled to read this! I love to run, but have been worried about getting back into it after several years of not running, plus some extra pounds. I have never found another form of exercise that keeps me as motivated as running.

Thanks for the good news! Report
Well I started running a year and a half ago after reaching my goal weight in November 2007. I had the unhappy triad injury to my knee 15 years ago and had my ACL fixed. So I was worried I would have problems. I did 1st walk my weight off and then eased into running over 3-4 months. Now I run about 50 miles a week and love it! My knees and other body parts can hurt when I change things up, like hills, uneven surfaces, running in circles one direction, not getting new shoes regularly and many other things and factors I now watch carefully. Glad it works for me and glad to read this study's report.
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