There’s no question that running can actually help your knees

Running can actually help your knees! It seems to do the opposite to keep the joints healthy – hitting the pavement repeatedly. That must cause wear, right? Well it turns out there are no more excuses!

Mary Colleen Roberts has been running since 1980.

“Your body can do so much for you if you just ask and take care of it,” she said. “For me it’s about seven miles when the endorphins kick in and it’s just so enjoyable.”

The 63-year-old even crossed a few marathon finish lines, most recently in New York City on an unusually warm day for the time of year.

“My knees didn’t cause me any problems at all during the race. That wasn’t a problem, the problem was the heat,” she said.

Her worst injury was a calf strain. She got a meniscus repair in her right knee, but not because of all the miles she drove, it was because of the bowling.

Orthopedist Dr. Brian Cole fixes a lot of knees.

“I think intuitively or conceptually people would say that running has to be bad,” he said. The increasing strain on our lower extremities, our hips, knees, feet and ankles must be bad because of the pounding. But to be honest, the literature hasn’t backed that up.”

Instead, some studies argue that the activity may provide protective benefits by strengthening the muscles around the knee joint and ultimately bulking up the cartilage.

“The prevalence of osteoarthritis is about 3-4 percent in runners, while it’s 10 percent in all comers,” said Cole.

There are variables when it comes to the risk of cartilage damage. Exposure hours, genetic predisposition, orientation, past injury history, and professional workload all play a role. But for most of us, weight-bearing exercise is highly beneficial when it comes to reducing obesity and promoting heart, respiratory, cognitive, and bone health.

“The only caveat is that a symptomatic person, someone with aches, pains, exertion discomfort, or swelling, may see an increase in their symptoms as they increase their exertion,” said Cole. “But that’s not the same as saying they’re doing more damage to their joints, and that’s very important because many, many people have arthritis and don’t even know they have it.”

For Roberts, it could be the good genetics that have kept her going all these years. Her 71-year-old brother has run 66 marathons. But her running buddies are also staying strong.

“The people I run with and have run with for the past 24 years are my age,” she said. “I really don’t want to stop doing this.”

She may not have to, even if she later develops osteoarthritis.

“The primary question people ask is, ‘Now that I know I have arthritis, will I make that arthritis worse if I engage in running and vigorous activity?'” Cole said. “The bottom line is that there is no evidence that this is the case. When I look at the benefits of running, the most popular cardiovascular exercise, I would argue that the benefits far outweigh the risks.”

“I’m just going to keep running until I can’t anymore, and I don’t think that’s going to happen, I think I’ll always be able to run,” Roberts said.

Elite runners appear to have a higher prevalence of osteoarthritis on X-ray findings, but many develop no symptoms. There’s no question that running can actually help your knees

Grace Reader

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