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Does Running Cause Knee Arthritis?

Fall is officially here and it’s around this time that a lot of folks are ramping up their running program and schedule because we are in the middle of marathon season.

If you’re over the age of 40 or 50 – one of the most common questions I get is…

Is running bad for you knees? Does it cause arthritis?

The answer is “No”!

If you experience knee pain when you run as we are getting older, the first thing we think about is “I can’t run anymore,” “I must be too old to run,” or “the pain is because of arthritis.”

Some of this is our brain going to the worst-case scenario and unfortunately some of this is coming from doctors too.

It is why runners do not want to go to the doctor, because they will get answers like you should stop running. You have “bad knees.” I have even had doctors say running is bad for your knees!

This is a very common misconception about running. In fact, research supports that running may actually be GOOD for your knees – and running alone does not cause arthritis to develop.

Does Running Cause Knee arthritis?

When you stay strong, active, and mobile, it is your best defense against Knee arthritis while Running.

We had a patient come in the other day who is a runner, and her fear is if she stops running, she will start to hurt everywhere (not just her knees) and will get arthritis (there is more truth to that).

Therefore runners, because they are typically active and healthy individuals, often have healthier knees than their non-running community.

Ok then – so what really causes knee pain in runners, and what is responsible for debilitating arthritis to develop?

In most cases, it’s simply a bio-mechanical issue that goes unaddressed over time. I always say, if you just started hurting one day without a reason, this is usually something that can be fixed! You are doing something that is creating your problem.

So the GOOD news is that once identified – these issues can actually be fixed with proper education, improving your mobility in joints that are tight and strengthening (this works best if offered by a movement specialist – like us!).

If you catch these issues ahead of time – arthritis is less likely to become problematic or debilitating.

What’s important for you to remember is that arthritis is NORMAL – everyone gets it as they age. It is like getting wrinkles on our face. It is the NORMAL aging process!

What doesn’t have to be “normal” is for arthritis to stop you from running – or any other activity that you love for that matter.

Here are three of the most common factors we see that are often the true culprit of knee pain when you run – not arthritis:

1) Poor mobility- in ankle, knee, or hip can create Knee pain while running

We like to start with the top (back and hip) and work our way down for looking at mobility and how our joints move. If you do not have the full mobility in your hip, what tends to happen is you start recruiting the wrong muscles. So, you cannot get your hip muscles to work properly, making your IT band, and lateral quad muscles working hard creating a possibility of knee pain.

Ankle mobility affects the way force hits your foot, which can impact your knee. If your ankle doesn’t move fully, freely, and adequately – excess forces will be shifted up to your knee. The knee may be forced to flex, and/or rotate, and/or tilt more than it needs to. This, in turn, may result in unwanted loads that the tissues of the knee can’t handle.

If you do not have mobility in the ankle, hip or knee you will create wrong movement patterns and use muscles that are not normally used for the repeated activity you are doing like with running!

A bio-mechanical and movement expert can not only help you identify if this is your true “knee problem” – but can also help you improve your mobility in order to prevent long term damage to the joints, tendons, and ligaments of your knees.

2) Individual Muscle weakness can create Knee pain while running

After working on mobility, then we have to look at the individual muscle weakness. There’s a widely perpetuated myth out there that runners don’t need to strength train because they are exercising so much. I hear this from patients all the time. Even walkers think that they will strengthen their legs by walking. It is just simply not true.

Adding strength training to your running regimen makes it way less likely that you’ll suffer an injury. When it comes to protecting your knees, developing good, balanced strength in your hips and thighs is critical. All the hip muscles, quads and hamstring plays an important role in your knee control.

Since running is extremely repetitive on your joints, especially your knees, it requires they have good durability and endurance – something that is lost quickly when you neglect proper strength training. Often “wear and tear” in your knees – otherwise known as arthritis – will get blamed for your knee pain when in actuality, the loss of strength around your knees is what’s causing that wear and tear to feel worse than it needs to.

3) Lack of Functional Strength can Cause Knee Pain while running

It may seem like running is all in the legs, but the stability of your pelvis and trunk have a huge influence on how your legs perform. Your muscles have to work together correctly which is where you derive the majority of your power, speed, and stamina from and it starts with your core muscles and glutes.

If your core including hips are not performing adequately or efficiently – other parts of your legs will have to work harder, and this creates those nagging pains. A stable core is key for developing and maintaining good balance and rhythm with any activity – but especially repetitive sports such as running. Without strong hips and core muscles, it’s impossible for your leg muscles and knee joints to work as efficiently as they were designed to, and it will be really difficult for you to maintain good and proper running form mile after mile. When your core and functional strength is compromised, and doesn’t have enough endurance to sustain the amount of miles you want to run, your knees will suffer.

The problem is when you start to have pain and you go to a doctor as we age, one of the first things they think of is arthritis is causing your knee pain because you run!

This often leads to unnecessary surgery to fix the “wear and tear” in your knee, or injections to decrease the inflammation. But if you don’t check and address any of the bio-mechanical issues I mentioned above, among others, these fixes will be temporary and your knee pain will keep coming back because they are not getting to the source of your problem. And worse… could force you to stop running all together!

The take home point here is that running alone doesn’t cause arthritis in your knees, but it can make arthritis that is already there – and naturally occurring – WORSE if you don’t address some of these other important issues.

If you’re suffering from knee pain, and it’s starting to impact your ability to run or do any other activity that you love…

Talk to one of our specialists for FREE by requesting a FREE DISCOVERY Session

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We only have room for about 2-3 of these sessions per week – so please only request one if you’re serious about getting help 🙂

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