Is Running *Really* Bad for Your Knees? Busting the Myth

If you love hitting the pavement for a good old-fashioned run, you might have been told at some point that it's bad for your knees. Pounding your feet on the ground is often a major no-no if you want to keep your joints healthy.

But is this true? Is running really that bad for your knees?

The short answer – is no, not really. Most research shows that running is great for your joint health and bone density, especially as you age.

How is this possible? Read on as we explore the myth of running and knee health.

The Myth: Running is Bad for Your Knees

Contrary to popular belief, running is a great way to strengthen, not damage, your knees. The knee is a complex joint of bones, cartilage, muscles, and tendons. When you run, the muscles and tendons surrounding your knees work together to keep things in place and absorb some of the impacts.

A study published by the National Library of Medicine shows recreational and competitive runners have lower rates of knee osteoarthritis than sedentary individuals. Running has also been scrapped off as a risk factor for developing knee osteoarthritis in later life, with a 21-year longitudinal study correlating running with reduced risk of disability.

But there is a caveat. While the research is conclusive that running is suitable for your knees, if you are already suffering from knee pain or arthritis, you should take things easy at first. Avoid pounding over 10 miles per week, and consult your doctor or physical therapist to devise a running program.

Studies in this area are also promising, with one showing that running can help reduce inflammation in patients with osteoarthritis in one knee. The key is to start slow and gradually increase your mileage as your pain decreases. Follow your physical therapist's guidance on warming up and cooling down to avoid unnecessary pain or inflammation.

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Debunking the Myth: Running with Bad Form is Bad for Your Knees

While running is not bad for your knees, running with bad form can put unnecessary stress on the joints and lead to pain or injury. Wearing the wrong shoes, poor running techniques, and terrain can compromise the efficiency of your running stride and lead to abnormal knee joint wear and tear. 

Common technique mistakes that can lead to knee pain include

  • Overstriding: This is when your foot strikes the ground too far in front of your body, causing your knee to bend more than it should. This can lead to pain in the front of the knee or IT band syndrome.
  • Poor posture: Hunching during a run puts unnecessary stress on your back, hips, and knees. Run tall with your shoulders back and relaxed to avoid pain down the line.
  • Heel striking: When your heel is the first thing to hit the ground, it can cause a jarring impact that travels up your leg and puts stress on your knees. Try to land your foot underneath your body for a more gentle impact.
  • Tilted pelvis: Always keep your pelvis level when running to avoid putting extra stress on your lower back and knees. Any misalignments in your hips can lead to pain and injury.
  • Excessive foot supination or pronation: If your foot rolls inwards or outwards too much when you run, it can cause knee pain. Wearing the right shoes for your foot type can help correct this.

Pro tip: Everybody pronates to some degree. Pronation (ankle movement) is NOT bad. While over or under-pronation can sometimes cause injuries, if you haven’t had problems, don’t switch up your trusted shoes just because your ankle moves. 

If you are unsure about your running form, seek out the guidance of a certified running coach or physical therapist. They can help you identify any faults in your technique and give you exercises to correct them.

What if You Have Bad Knees? Should You Quit Running?

Just because you have bad knees does not mean you have to give up running altogether. Having strategic measures in place can help you manage your knee pain and safely continue running. 

Here are some tips for running if you have bad knees:

  • Invest in a good pair of shoes: Good running shoes are your number one defence against knee pain. They provide cushioning and support to reduce the impact on your joints. Go for a lightweight, flexible shoe with extra arch support and a thick midsole.
  • Modify your running surface: If you are a heavy runner, opt for softer surfaces like grass or dirt trails to avoid the impact of concrete.
  • Warm up and cool down properly: Always take the time to warm up and cool down before and after your run. Stretch your hamstrings, quads, and calves to loosen up your muscles and prevent injury.
  • Listen to your body: Take a break if you are in pain. Don't push through the pain, which can lead to further injury.
  • Consult with a doctor or physical therapist: If you are experiencing chronic knee pain, it is best to consult with a doctor or physical therapist. They can help you devise a treatment plan that is right for you.

RELATED: Reasons to join a run club.

Is Running Good for Your Knees? The Bottom Line

With the myth debunked, we can conclude that running is, in fact, good for your knees – as long as you do it with proper form. Running helps build muscles around the knee joint, which can protect the joint from ailments like arthritis. 

So lace up those shoes and hit the pavement with confidence. If you are experiencing knee pain, consult your doctor or physical therapist to avoid further injury. Happy running!