Is Running Bad For Your Knees? [The Truth About Knee Injuries For Runners]

Running is widely accepted at one of the best exercises to help you lose weight, build strong muscles, and increase your overall health. But there’s no doubt that it is a high impact activity.

One of the common concerns amongst new runners is the potential downside of wear and tear on joints – namely the knees and ankles.

Scientists have much to say about the efficacy of running and its effect on your knees and other joints, and while some say it has no adverse effect, others swear that it is the number one cause of Osteoarthritis and similar joint issues.

What is the latest consensus? Is running bad for your knees?

Let’s take a closer look at the evidence for and again.

What is Osteoarthritis?

Is running bad for your knees?

Osteoarthritis is known as one of the most common forms of arthritis that affect the lower back, hips, and knees of runners and those who engage in physical activity. It is considered a degenerative disease and causes long-term damage and pain to those who suffer from it. 

Historically, medical science has said that running is one of the leading causes of Osteoarthritis. But recent findings tell a different story.

Is There A Connection Between Osteoarthritis and Running?

Ask any doctor just a few decades ago if running was good for the knees, and they would launch into a long list of reasons why running causes serious knee problems like Osteoarthritis, patellofemoral pain, and lifelong degenerative pain. 

Thankfully science and medicine have come a long way and made many advancements that now suggest that running is good for the knees and can help prevent this arthritic condition from occurring in the first place.

Looking at research from the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, the European Journal of Applied Physiology, and the Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise department, there is a clear consensus that running is not as bad for your knees as previously suggested

A few of these studies have shown the benefits of running on the knees and indicate that running helps to increase the resilience and strength of the cartilage and joints. Muscles and joints adapt to the increased activity that running brings and will soon learn to take the impact. 

Let’s look at just some of the myths regarding running and injury to the knee, as well as what science and the medical fraternity have to say about them:

Myth #1: Running Increases the Impact on the Knees

According to studies conducted by the Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise department at the University of Canada, running and walking have the same impact on the knees. 

While previous research showed that running had a remarkably higher impact than walking, new studies and tests have shown that this is simply not true. This is good news for those who suffer from aching joints but want to start running to lose weight or keep fit. 

Myth #2: Running Causes Considerable Damage to the Knees

Thanks to the folk over at Springer, a scientific journal, we now know that it is not running itself that causes damage to the knees, but rather running incorrectly. Form and posture play a big role in the efficacy of a run, so it is imperative to consider these when running. 

Myth #3: Running Is the Number One Cause of Arthritis

The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery has conducted several studies showing that the rate of arthritis of active marathon runners versus the general U.S. population is considerably lower. The studies go on to indicate that long-term running has benefits for the knees and has a positive impact on the strength and resilience of cartilage, bones, and joints. 

Myth #4: Running Leads to Inflammation of Cartilage and Knee Tissue

The European Journal of Applied Physiology has again come to the rescue by refuting these claims as unsubstantiated and false. Whether it is due to technological advancements in medicine or simply the improvement of studies and research, the journal states that running results in less inflammation than previously thought. 

Myth #5: Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome Is a Direct Result of Running

Again, studies and research by the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery have proven that Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome, often referred to as runner’s knee, is not caused by running but rather by weak thigh muscles. This is why strength training and warm-ups are important before heading out on your run. 

The Benefits of Running Outweigh The Risk of Knee Injury

Yes, while, it is technically true that running increases your chances of knee injury — from an improper technique, a misplaced step, or training error — there are still many benefits to running that outweigh the risk.

While we all know that running is a great, inexpensive exercise that will get you off the couch and into the great outdoors, there are a few other benefits that are sure to have you lacing your running shoes and heading off for a run.

Here are the best benefits of running:

  • Running can help increase metabolism and burn calories faster than any other exercise.
  • A regular running routine will strengthen muscles and joints, decreasing the risk of Osteoarthritis and other joint-related illnesses or diseases.
  • Running is an excellent full-body exercise that works the major muscle groups. Why pay hefty gym membership fees when a run helps you work your muscles and shed pounds at the same time?
  • Running lowers cholesterol levels, increases resistance to insulin, and can help strengthen the heart and lungs.
  • Running will not only help you lose weight but maintain weight when you have reached your target. Results are fairly quick, which is a great confidence booster and will improve your mood and mental health too. 
  • Running can take on many forms and can be adapted to suit your fitness goals.
  • Joining a running club will help you meet new like-minded people through your love of fitness and the outdoors. 
  • Running is inexpensive and does not require any fancy gear. Aside from a good pair of running shoes, you can run into whatever is most comfortable and breathable. 
  • Running requires no experience, is great for people of all ages, and is one of the best ways to get fit while improving your concentration and health considerably. 

How to Reduce Your Risk of Knee Injury

Now that we have busted the most popular myths about running causing damage to your knees, it is time to focus on ways to prevent injuries from happening at all.

Most pain caused during running is from weakened muscles, not from the run itself, making warming-up, proper form, and rest or recovery days necessary to prevent pain and injury. 

Here are our top tips:

Incorporate Strength Training into Your Workout

Strength training will help increase the strength and elasticity of your muscles. As muscles work in pairs, increasing the strength of one will help support the corresponding muscles. As running works the glutes, hamstrings, hip flexors, and calves, incorporating stretching into your warm-up routine will prepare these muscles for the upcoming physical activity. 

Improve Your Form and Posture While Running

How you carry yourself when you run can make a big difference in guarding against injury. Pain while running is not uncommon but is almost always a sign of poor posture and form and a lack of elasticity of the muscles. 

Swinging your arms while running helps with balance and stability while also working those arm muscles. Keep your back straight and pay close attention to how you “land” when running. 

See our guide to correct running technique to improve your form.

Wear Proper Running Shoes

The right shoes can help improve your comfort and reduce the risk of injury when running. Well-fitting, comfortable running shoes are nice to have and help absorb the impact of your foot hitting the ground when running. 

Choose shoes designed specifically for running, are a good fit, and are comfortable to wear for extended periods. Shoes with extra venting and lightweight soles are ideal. Take care of your running shoes, and be sure to air them regularly to keep them in tip-top condition. Always wear socks to help keep your feet dry and prevent fungus build-up from sweating. 

Running = Stronger Knees

Thanks to new studies and research by some of the top medical professionals in the world, we can now safely say that running is not bad for your knees and is actually known to decrease inflammation in the knee while increasing the strength and resilience of your cartilage, muscles, and joints. 

Runners may be more prone to knee injuries than the average couch potato, but this is a direct consequence of living an active life. And the same could be said for just about any part of the human body. If you’re using it a lot, you’re more likely to notice some aches and pains.

The caveat here is that poor technique and over-training are both liable to increase your chances of a knee injury. So if you’re noticing an increase in knee pain, it’s worth exploring your technique first.

As with many things, muscles and joints adapt to the sudden increase in activity fairly quickly but be sure to start slow and steady to allow your body time to adjust to your running routine. 

Always wear the right gear and consult a doctor if you experience persistent pain that doesn’t go away with rest. Speak to your doctor about any concerns you may have if you have diabetes and are worried about the effects of running on your health and blood sugar levels. Now, get off the couch, tie up your laces, and get running!

Author Profile

Thalia Oosthuizen

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Thalia started running during the the pandemic as a way of getting out of the house. The running bug bit, and now much of her life revolves around everything to do with running - videos, podcasts, studies, books, articles, and interviews. She's also done several courses on running nutrition and mechanics to aid in her training and advising others.
Thalia Oosthuizen

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