Does Running Actually Ruin Your Knees?

We asked the experts.
We asked the experts.
Allison Fox
We asked the experts.

The Question: I’ve always heard that running is bad for your knees. Is this really true?

Both runners and non-runners alike have heard that the high impact of running ― the repetitive pounding which occurs as you log miles ― can cause damage to knee joints.

But a recent study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology turns that notion on its head: Researchers found that running actually decreased inflammation in the knees of six people, suggesting that the activity may actually be more beneficial to the joints than harmful.

“Any time you run, you put a load or force on the knee,” lead study author Robert Hyldahl, assistant professor at Brigham Young University, told The Huffington Post. “But the knee is made to load.”

The study was extremely small partly due to logistical challenges. The experiment required extracting synovial fluid, an indicator for inflammation, from knee cartilage, which proved to be very difficult, Hyldahl said. But regardless it still may shed light on the idea that knee cartilage is meant to absorb just the type of shock that running causes. So while the data is limited, it could perhaps persuade someone who thinks running is bad for your knees to get out there and run, Hyldahl explained.

Mark Harrast, medical director of the Sports Medicine Center at the University of Washington, agrees, but says there’s a catch: While the most current research shows that running does not cause knee arthritis, there’s standard degenerative process of joints as people age. Running can cause damage in the knees of people who have already experienced trauma to the cartilage in that area.

“If you have cartilage damage from an injury, such as skiing, a torn meniscus, or a blown out ACL, and if you run regularly and overuse it, that’s a set up for arthritis,” Harrast, who was not affiliated with Hyldahl’s study, told HuffPost.

If you’ve had surgery or trauma to your knee cartilage, Harrast suggests rehabilitation and then picking up a more low impact sport when you’ve recovered, such as swimming or cycling. But as long as your knees are in good shape, running should not cause significant damage.

“Anyone can get injured, and there is a common source of pain called runner’s knee, but that is just standard overuse of the area,” Harrast said. “Running is such an easy sport for people to pick up. Start in doses. Then be smart about listening to your body and paying attention to aches and pains.”

Bundle up, make a playlist and set an achievable goal. Then check out this video for the best form while you hit your stride. And you’re off to the races.

“Ask Healthy Living” is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice. Please consult a qualified health care professional for personalized medical advice.

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