Amongst runners (and their loved ones) this is one myth that has been floating around for ages and has been creating a lot of anxiety. Let me begin by saying that this is absolutely baseless. As baseless as saying that if I cross the road I will get run over by a car! Yes if you are careless and are prone to jay-walking this might very well happen, but as a rule, this statement is grossly incorrect. The same goes for runner’s knees. With a few precautions in place, you never have to worry about ruining your knees by running!
Let’s look at some facts.
Arthritis is degeneration of the knee cartilage that is associated with wear and tear, age and other factors. The concern among runners is that running being an impact sports causes wear and tear and hence leads to arthritis and therefore may lead to knee replacement! Yet to refute this there are a number of studies that have proved that runners do not face any such risk of developing arthritis. A study was done in 2006 by the title ‘Does long-distance running cause osteoarthritis’ found that long-distance running does not increase the risk of osteoarthritis of the knees for healthy people who have no other contra-indications for this kind of physical activity. It, in fact, reports that “long distance running might even have a protective effect against joint degeneration”. Another study published in 2008 studied 45 long distance runners and 53 control individuals (non-runners) and looked at radiographical changes in the knees. It showed that long-distance running among healthy individuals was not associated with osteoarthritis.
This clearly proves that you can continue to enjoy running without worrying about knee pain leading to arthritis. However, do keep in mind that knee pain may occur with running but this is usually related to muscular imbalances such as quadriceps or glutes weakness or excessive hamstring tightness. Running is a repetitive sport, meaning that the same muscles get worked each time you run. This can lead to overuse injuries, even knee pain.
A few precautions to take to avoid knee pain associated with running are:
- Ramp up your training sensibly either with the help of a coach or follow a structured program,
- Running shoes should be picked according to your foot type and make sure that shoes are changed frequently depending on your mileage.
- Some amount of flexibility and strength training is built into your running program and
- Address any pain diligently (instead of ignoring it); see a health professional if the pain continues more than a week.
In fact, people who lead sedentary lives with very little physical activity are the most potential candidates for knee arthritis. So worry no more and run to your heart’s content.