Turns Out Running Doesn't Wreck Your Knees After All

Rock on, runners.
Jordan Siemens via Getty Images

People who don’t enjoy running for exercise might console themselves with a few of the less-than-flattering aspects of the practice: Say, for example, that running can lead to knee pain such as “runner’s knee,” which happens when there’s inflammation where the knee cap meets the thigh bone.

But a recent study suggests that runners don’t suffer more long-term damage to their knee joints than the rest of us couch potatoes. The study of more than 2,600 middle-aged participants found that people who ran more actually experienced less knee pain over time. What’s more, people who ran at the time of the data collection enjoyed less knee pain than former runners.

The study, published earlier this summer in the Arthritis Care & Research journal, examined medical data from 2,637 people whose average age was 64. Researchers set out to examine both regular knee pain and pain associated with arthritis. They discovered a surprising trend: The more people had run in their lives, the less knee pain they felt at the time of survey. In fact, only about 21 percent of people who ran regularly also reported having knee pain, compared to about 25.3 percent of former runners and 29.6 percent of people who had never run for exercise.

Jordan Siemens via Getty Images

The researchers note that runners in their study may have reported less pain not because of running itself, but because of things associated with being a runner, like better muscle strength or healthier overall lifestyle. And, of course, people with knee pain may be non-runners because pain prevents them from running in the first place. These caveats aside, the study’s evidence aligns with previous research that has found running to have no effect on the development of cumulative joint pain and arthritis.

Of course, running injuries DO occur, especially if you skip warmups or skimp on recovery days. And running can certainly exacerbate existing injuries. It’s important to rest regularly, stretch often and stay patient if you want to remain a healthy runner for life.

But if you’re otherwise injury-free, don’t let concerns about joint problems get in the way of this great workout, which is associated with a host of health benefits, from less stress and better memory to lower cancer risk and even a longer life.

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