Athletes often wonder if running contributes to knee osteoarthritis and other issues. The assumption is completely reasonable, given the amount of consistent force on the bones and soft tissue – such as the cartilage. Researchers have looked for definitive answers.
A recent study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise took the data from previously published research and compared patient exercise habits alongside imaging results to determine how running impacts various aspects of the joints.
The findings demonstrate the ways in which these physical exercises could both prevent and contribute to knee conditions.
Bone spurs, known officially as osteophytes, do in fact become more prevalent when a patient is regularly going on long-distance runs.
Neutral: Narrowing of joint space
Running and jogging doesn’t accelerate or decelerate narrowing of the joint space in the knees.
Beneficial: Cartilage injuries
Running actually prevents some knee conditions by boosting the amount of articular cartilage in the joint, says South Carolina orthopedic surgeon Dr. David Geier. “It also appears to be associated with fewer articular cartilage defects,” he adds. “This evidence implies that a runner can have both the overall health benefits of exercise and prevent arthritis.”
Beneficial: Life expectancy & overall health
Actually, the positive side of running, jogging, or any type of regular exercise goes far beyond the impact on the joints. According to the data from a PLOS Medicine analysis, every minute you spend in vigorous cardiovascular exercise could add between seven and nine minutes to your life.
In terms of specific advantages, exercise is helpful in terms of virtually every health parameter, including circulation, weight loss, and prevention of mood disorders.
Six Paths to Knee Damage
Running obviously has its pluses and minuses, but research suggests it is generally healthy. What are a few mistakes you might make that would, in fact, cause knee deterioration?
- Not responding to pain
- Excess body weight
- Avoiding rest and rehab
- Failure to protect the ACL
- Pushing yourself too hard
- Neglecting the surrounding muscles (ie, not strengthening them).
Most of the above are fairly straightforward. The fourth requires a bit of further explanation. Athletes can improve their techniques with neuromuscular training, which a broad analysis found reduces knee conditions by nearly 50%.
"Given what we know in how useful it can be in reducing ACL tears, it's irresponsible of coaches and parents to not require athletes to undergo neuromuscular training,” explains University of Pennsylvania sports medicine professor Nicholas DiNubile, MD.
The Right Shoes Can Help
The good news is that you can prevent pain simply by adjusting your shoes. For example, the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists (SCPOD) points out that 90% of women wear undersized shoes. Those fashionable, chic high heels are at one end of the footwear spectrum; and yes, they are dangerous. However, the other end of the spectrum – no-nonsense, functional running shoes – can be a problem as well.
Take it from the shoe companies. "It's best to choose sneakers that are suited for your primary activity," noted Brooks Running senior manager Brice Newton. "For example, runners need sneakers that can withstand the repetitive pattern and force that’s applied when running.”
The issue is that the focus of shoes that are optimized for running is different from ones that are optimized for walking. Walking shoes generally have extra cushioning, particularly in the heel. Yes, walking isn’t high-impact like running is, but the foot is on the ground longer, which is why the additional padding is helpful.
The Path to Recovery
Are you experiencing pain when walking or running? At Flexogenix, we strive to help our patients achieve a pain-free lifestyle through exclusive personalized care. Contact us today to schedule a no-cost consultation!