If everyone had a fast-twitch muscle fiber for every time we’ve heard “running will ruin your knees,” we would be able to outsprint Usain Bolt! Despite what your ill-informed neighbors, co-workers, and relatives may have told you, there’s no evidence proven that regular running damages knees.
That’s not to say that no runners’ knees ever bother them! Many knee problems in runners are the result of things going on elsewhere in the body, and most can be overcome with a few simple changes.
Here are five things all runners should know about knees.
- Runners don’t get arthritis in their knees more often than non-runners.
This is a fact, period. If anything, long-term studies have discovered that runners have less incidence of knee osteoarthritis. One study that followed runners and non-runners for 18 years found that, while 20 percent of the runners developed arthritis during that time, 32 percent of the non-runners did.
Not to mention, there was a large study that looked at runners and walkers and 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 recorded the lowest rate of arthritis.
- The statement above is true regardless of your age.
Loss of cartilage, including in the knees, is a natural part of the aging process. However, there’s no proven evidence that running accelerates that loss. In fact, at least one study discovered that when people who developed the risk of having 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 actually decreased.
- Supplements won’t re-grow knee cartilage.
Regardless of what advertisements or anecdotes you’ve encountered, no dietary supplements have been proven to increase knee cartilage. The most popular such supplement, glucosamine, may help with knee osteoarthritis by protecting the articular cartilage, which among other roles, helps to lubricate the knee joint. There was a study that observed vitamin D supplementation in people who had knee arthritis found that they possessed the same levels of pain and loss of cartilage after two years as did people with arthritis who didn’t take vitamin D.
Preventing the degradation of cartilage is very different from creating it where it has already been worn away. Nothing over-the-counter can provide that miraculous of improvement. In order to regenerate tissue where none currently is, treatments like stem cell injections would be necessary.
- Runner’s knee is usually caused by issues elsewhere.
It is without a doubt that the most common knee injury among runners is runner’s knee. The term runner’s knee is clinically known as chondromalacia patella or patellofemoral pain syndrome; it’s known for building inflammation of the cartilage under your kneecap.
There’s increasing consensus among sports medicine professionals that many people with runner’s knee have a few common biomechanical problems. These include weak hips and glutes, which introduce instability further down the legs; weak quadriceps, which can make it extremely difficult for the kneecap to track properly; and tight hamstrings, which shift some of running’s impact to the knees. A good strengthening program that you may come across can go a long way to preventing runner’s knee. Which can result in a better and promising future for your running days.
- There are some simple ways to keep your knees happy.
As mentioned before, weakness and/or tightness elsewhere in your legs can mean trouble for your knees. The best thing you could do is build your body with enough muscle and get stronger. Extra weight can not only be painful, but it places tremendous strain on your knees. The American College of Sports Medicine that have said that each additional pound of body mass puts four extra pounds of stress on the knee. The running’s long-term effect on keeping weight lower is thought to be a key reason why, as mentioned before, runners might have less of a chance to develop knee arthritis.
Another useful tip is to run on level ground to lessen the torque on your knees. If you have a history of knee pain, whether it be from accidents or other sports, consider switching to more of a forefoot strike. There was one recent study that found the more impact force affects the knees in rearfoot strikers, while forefoot strikers have more impact forces in their ankles.
Many if not all runners will ask when can they return to running? The answer is simple, patellofemoral pain is notorious for sticking around for weeks or even months, so do be cautious with this injury. In general, you don’t want to run through pain. Sometimes, as you are recovering, your knee may feel a bit stiff at the beginning of a run, but as long as it gets better, not worse, as you progress in your run, you are probably okay to keep going.
What’s the bottom line?
It’s difficult or impossible to predict how much time off you’ll need, especially considering the biomechanical roots of this injury.
If you have a hard time recovering from your exercises or feel that your current joint health prevents you from reaching your goals, consider using regenerative medicine to kick-start your body’s natural healing process. The Stem Cell Orthopedic Institute of Texas is available for consultations at (210) 293-3136.
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