In a word, no, running isn't bad for your knees like many people believe. In fact, according to multiple studies, knee osteoarthritis is less prevalent in runners than in people who aren't active. One study even found a 12 percent lower incidence of knee arthritis in runners vs. non-runners after nearly two decades.
This is because regular running actually makes our knee joints stronger and in turn, protects them from developing osteoarthritis as we age. So, if you've been thinking about taking up running to get in shape or increasing your existing running routine, consider this your go-ahead to proceed, but with caution. While running is good for our knees, injuries are not.
Follow these tips to avoid a running injury and keep your knees happy and healthy:
- Get fitted for the right running shoe and replace your shoes every 400 miles or if the soles are worn. (Consider orthotics if you have flat feet or high arches.)
- Warm up and stretch before every run or jog.
- Increase your mileage slowly over time.
- Change up your running surface and the direction you run frequently so your knees get used to various terrain.
- Rest well between long runs.
- Add strength training to your exercise routine – strong muscles prevent problems with stability and alignment that cause injury.
- Cross train and vary your cardiovascular routine to keep your muscles balanced
- Use a foam roller to massage and loosen tight muscles.
If you're new to running or are overweight, it's a good idea to talk to your doctor first before you get started.
How to heal from a running injury
If you do start to experience discomfort when running, listen to your body. Don't try to push through hoping it gets better. Start with the RICE method for two to three days. RICE is an acronym for:
- Rest – take a break from running during this time
- Ice – use a plastic bag of ice or a cold pack for 20-30 minutes, three or four times a day to ease the pain
- Compression – wrap your knee with an Ace bandage or similar (not too tightly) to decrease swelling
- Elevation – prop your knee up on pillows (can be when you're icing it) when lying down or sitting
An over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug like ibuprofen may also help. If the injury doesn't heal after a few days of the RICE method, talk your doctor. Serious, painful knee injuries require immediate medical attention.
Concerned you might have a running injury or need advice starting a new running routine? Schedule an appointment online with one of our orthopaedics and sports medicine experts near you today.