Is Running Really Bad for Your Knees?

Running can be good for the mind, body, AND the knees. Never thought you’d hear that one coming from your local NYC podiatrist, did you?  Well I’m all about dispelling myths and other commonly held beliefs.  For example: high heels- not really so bad, sugar- also not so bad in moderation, Affordable Care Act- going to solve our current health care mess.  Ok, maybe not the last one.  But a study presented at the American College of Rheumatology’s annual conference in November 2014 has demonstrated that which we doctors, podiatrists, and runners have suspected for some time – running may not lead to long term breakdown of the knee joint, and may in fact be beneficial.

As we have discussed, osteoarthritis is a common type of arthritis in which the cartilage breaks down, leading to joint pain and stiffness.  There are many factors that can lead to cartilage degeneration including trauma, genetics, and activity.  The conventional wisdom has generally held that running accelerates this process by exerting more force on the joint.  However, studies have emerged over the past few years demonstrating that in fact, runners’ knees seem to do better than some non-runners’ knees.  Most of these studies looked at elite male runners.  The current study presented at the rheumatology meeting examined the knees of non-elite runners, those who run distances that we mere mortals tend to run.  And the study showed that the runners’ knees demonstrated less wear and tear than non-runners knees, the caveat being unless there was a prior injury.  The popular explanation is that the activity and motion force the body to adapt and maintain a healthy level of cartilage within the joint, which is also observed in other scenarios – for instance patients who employ a regimen of early range of motion following foot and ankle surgery tend to recover faster and better.  So the lesson here is that rather than being bad for the knees, running seems to be good for the knees.

As a runner with a 20-year-old left knee ACL tear, I for one am glad to see studies that validate and confirm this widely held belief among runners.  While this is only one study and may be subject to change or revision in the future, I can now tell my Mom to stop worrying – at least about this.

See you in the office.

Ernest Isaacson