One of the perks of living in South Florida is the opportunity to exercise outdoors year-round, and one of the most popular forms of exercise is running. Therefore, both the osteopathic physicians and the physical therapists at The Medical Group of South Florida in Jupiter, Florida, hear the question from our patients frequently: Is running bad for my knees?
It seems logical. The pounding stress on knees and hips from running can’t possibly be good for them, right? After all, each time the foot hits the ground, the body experiences a force equal to eight times body weight.
The fact is, however, there are no credible studies linking knee or hip osteoarthritis with the practice of running. Just the opposite appears to be the case.
As far back as 1971, researchers began to look at the children and spouses of the famous Framingham, Mass., Heart Study. Called the Framingham Offspring Cohort, 1,279 volunteers enrolled in a study of exercise and arthritis; the results of the study showed no link between jogging and arthritis.
A 2008 study not only confirmed the Framingham study, but in a 21-year-long follow-up, the runners “experienced significantly less musculoskeletal disability than did their less-active peers,” according to a Harvard University report on the study. An Australian study that same year found that subjects who engaged in vigorous exercise had knee cartilage that was thicker and healthier than those who didn’t exercise routinely.
What about the frequent reports of runners experiencing knee problems? Experts in the field surmise that the onset of those issues were coincidental; that is, they would have happened whether subjects were runners or not. Researchers attribute the onset of osteoarthritis to obesity or genes, rather than overuse of the joints.
This doesn’t mean running and jogging are entirely risk-free. Common reasons our patients who run or jog regularly come to see us include stress fractures and soft-tissue injuries. These, however, can be prevented with the proper precautions.
Smart tips to prevent running injuries:
1. Start slowly
You can’t go from a sedentary life on the sofa to a marathon. Pace yourself as you start out or if you’re returning to running after a long time away from it.
2. Wear good shoes
Obtain shoes specifically designed for running. Our osteopaths and physical therapists can perform a gait analysis before you buy to help you decide whether you need a specific type of shoe to correct for any gait abnormality.
3. Stretch . . . slowly
The idea is to gently loosen muscles and joints before engaging in more vigorous exercise. We can show you various warm-up and cool-down stretches aimed at various muscle groups.
4. Land on your feet
The mid-sole, that is. If your strides are too long, you’ll land on your heels, a prime cause of shin splints and joint pain. Shorter strides will allow you to land on mid-foot, minimizing the chances of injury.
5. Take a day off
Beginning runners should alternate days of running and days of other forms of exercise to allow muscles and tendons time to heal. Even experienced runners should give their bodies a rest every few days to help their muscles recover.