Myth or Fact: Is Running Bad For Your Knees?

by on March 8, 2011

in bruce's thoughts

Is Running Bad For Your Knees?

That’s the question I’ve been wondering now for quite some time. I started running almost 2 years ago, but at this moment, I’m recovering from knee surgery. A few friends / peers have jumped right on the bandwagon that says that running is bad for your knees and try to use my knee as the perfect example. But my knee surgery was a result of an injury from days gone by back in High School.

After they tell me this, I then suggest to them that running is NOT bad for your knees. Then they start to spout (much like I used to) how they’ve heard that running is very bad for your joints. “They’ve heard.”

So my next question is this: “What doctor did you hear that from?”

So far, no one has been able to answer that question because somehow this myth just propagates through time from one person to the next. And empirically, it seems to make sense. Gads knows how many people have quit running because it shot their knees out! Right? Or that people you know assumed their knee issues came about from running. Never mind the idea that maybe their knees were going bad for some other reason, like genetics and previous injuries from year’s past.

Yet we’ve all taken that statement for granted and even I was in that school of thought until recently when I decided to try and confirm this bit of “information.”

Yet here’s something to chew one: That running and other vigorous exercise tends to help protect folks from joint problems later on in life.

Wha? Protect?

Stanford University tracked one thousand runners over a period of 21 years and in their 2008 report, their findings suggested that runner’s knees were no more or less healthy than non-runner’s knees. In fact their study pointed to the fact that it didn’t even matter if the runner ran 200 or 2,000 miles a year, it seemed to be all a wash.

Then comes the shocker: “Runners experienced less physical disability and had a 39% lower mortality rate than the non-runners.“ An Australian study also concluded that people who exercised vigorously had thicker and healthier knee cartilage than their sedentary peers. [That makes sense, much like when the medical science world discovered that the bone mass of a baseball pitcher increased from use, much like a muscle.]

Basically the studies were derived around the idea that osteoarthritis is more caused by genetics and risk factors like obesity than actual wear and tear from use. The findings also suggested that a “normally functioning joint can withstand and actually flourish under a lot of wear.”

Here’s the wacky aspect about it: Since your cartilage does not have arteries to supply blood, they depend more on the pumping action created by movement to create its own oxygen and nutrients. “When you bear weight, [the joint] squishes out fluid, and when you release weight, it sucks in fluid.

So the next time someone suggests that you should take up running, you might want to ixnay the excuse that it is bad for the knees. In fact, it looks like it is just the opposite!

Like on NBC’s The Biggest Loser, you see how exercise helps the contestants lose weight and manage their diabetes and high blood pressure. With me, my own experience has been that my asthma actually improved and became non-existent. Someone told me they can’t run because of their asthma. They were telling this guy who was on two daily meds a day to keep mine at bay. I didn’t have the heart to tell them they should learn pacing to prevent that heavy wheezing because they seemed too bent on reinforcing the idea that they can’t run. And what about all those star athletes that have asthma? Jerome Bettis of the Pittsburgh Steelers running back; Jackie Joyner-Kersee, a three-time Olympic champion in track and field; Amy Van Dyken, who won four gold medals in the 1996 Olympic swimming.

The wheezing is exactly what I experienced in my early days of running… really bad, labored wheezing. But time, perseverance and knowing the end results were good are what kept me at it. That and realizing that “running” did not mean an all out charger for ‘x’ miles.

Running is really not that hard to get into and if you tackle it right, it doesn’t have to be a wheeze-fest. That comes from running beyond your capability. If you haven’t trained, of course you’re going to breathe (and probably look) funny! But if you build up to it right, that issue goes away. But the honest trick to the whole process is that you have to want to.

I’ve seen what incredible benefits it did for me and so I want to. That is, once I get off this cane! LOL.

So it looks like running is not bad for your knees and, since I drifted off-subject, asthma isn’t always a limiter!,8599,1948208,00.html

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