Myth: “Running is bad for your knees, you’ll get injuries and terrible arthritis down the line.”
Runners face this common misconception all the time and in multiple forms. Running will cause them grinding knee damage, running is sure to incur permanent injuries, and knee arthritis is punishment for overuse of the knees in your youth.
While an experienced runner knows that the consequences for running depend most on health and form, this constant bombardment of warnings can be disconcerning. We look into the myths to see if there’s any truth to the concerns.
The Wear-and-Tear Myth
It’s not impossible that running can cause damage to your knees, but not in a situation where the runner is healthy and they run with good form. The human body is designed to walk and run constantly, and the knees were built to support this. The same way a twisted ankle works, your knees take damage when the leg or knee is not aligned and ready to take weight.
Some people can hurt themselves by not knowing how to run and doing so badly, in a way that prevents their body from aligning properly while they run. Others with injuries or some condition that changes the shape of their body may not be able to achieve proper form and safe running.
The amount of weight on your knees is also a major factor, so running while overweight or carrying heavy objects does put more stress on your knees and can increase the risks of bad form. That said, there’s no medical proof that running causes additional wear-and-tear compared to the same amount of walking, and according to NPR, a study has shown that the biochemistry of cartilage actually appeared to improve in those participants who were running compared to participants who did not run during the observed period. The study itself goes on to conclude that cartilage has a potential to adapt to loading change, meaning that exercise can strengthen your cartilage as well as your muscles.
The Injuries Myth
Most athletes are occasionally warned by purveyors of myths about the high risk of permanent sports injuries ruining their lives, happiness, and ability to walk. Of the wide selection of sports, running has an especially low chance for serious injury. It is inherently true that the more you run, the higher chance you have of getting a running related injury, but this is true of any activity. The more you spin pottery, for instance, the higher chance you have of the rare pottery based injury.
The fact of the matter is that running is not football and that marathons are not likely to be involved in dangerous tackling maneuvers or even complex attempts to catch a flying projectile. While it’s true that minor running injuries are relatively common, these sprains and strains usually result from an imperfect running form and pushing beyond your limits.
Light steps may be they key to avoiding injuries according to this study, which followed 249 runners over 2 years. If you are in good shape, run with good form, and remember to warm up before committing to a hard run, you should remain safe and injury-free.
The Arthritis Myth
Perhaps the most widely spread and powerfully debunked of the knee-based running myths is the insistence that running causes terrible arthritis. There has been study after study on this topic, because runners care and no one wants arthritis, and they have found that the exact opposite is true. Regular running can build stronger knees and help prevent arthritis!
The New York Times reported on one particular study that investigated the risk of osteoarthritis in runners vs walkers. The study found that approximately 2.5/100 runners experienced osteoarthritis compared to 4.7/100 occurrence in people who prefer to walk instead. While scientists don’t yet know why running reduces the risk or rate of arthritis, another study noted that while more force is applied on each foot strike while running, we also spend more time in the air and hit the ground fewer times per measured distance, approximately balancing the overall force applied to the knee.
Running is safe and good for you as long as it’s done responsibly and with good form. Perhaps most importantly, running does not cause arthritis. If the next person to present you with this particularly incorrect myth is under the age of 50, suggest that their concerns would be better served by joining you on your next run instead.