Have you heard the myth that running is bad for your knees or damages the knee joints? Well this debate has been raging on for years. However long-distance running has continue to rise in popularity with more than 30 million individuals running marathons each year. Is that going to mean that more and more people are going to require knee surgeries and replacements?
As we find ourselves in Phase 2 of Singapore’s reopening, many of us are working from home so now more than ever we need to be exercising for both our physical and mental wellbeing. So, is long distance running a suitable option?
Now new evidence from two studies can help shed light on the effects of long distance running. The first study is by Ponzio et al, titled, “Low Prevalence of Hip and Knee Arthritis in Active Marathon Runners.” This study compared Arthritis prevalence in 675 United States marathoners with the National Centre for Health Statistics prevalence estimates for a matched group of the U.S population. Arthritis prevalence was 8.8% for the marathoners, significantly lower than the prevalence in the matched population, 17.9%. These results indicate that there is a link between marathon running and arthritis prevalence, but it does not look into the reasons why.
The second study digs a little deeper into the reasons why the arthritis rates may be lower. A prospective cohort study by Horan et al was titled, “Can Marathon running improve knee damage of middle-aged adults?”
The study had 82 first time marathon runners have MRI scans on their knees 6 months before the marathon and half a month after. The subjects had to complete a 4 month standardised training program before completing the marathon. Pre-marathon and pre-training MRI showed signs of damage, without symptoms, to several knee structures in the majority of the 82 middle-aged volunteers. However, after the marathon, MRI showed a reduction in the radiological score of articular cartilage damage and bone marrow lesions.
To date, this is the most robust evidence to link marathon running with knee joint health and provides important information for those seeking to understand the link between long distance running and osteoarthritis of the main weight-bearing areas of the knee.
Now these studies are not high level evidence to tell us that we all should be going out running marathons but it certainly forms the base of a good argument to say that running does not necessarily damage our knees. In fact, it can ‘heal’ our knees. Coupled with the fact that physical activity reduces our risk of conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes mellitus, it’s safe to say running is good for us.
We must still consider safely beginning or increasing our running. If you’re new to running then you should gradually introduce it to your exercise routine. For example, running 2-3 times a week for 3-5km. If you are a regular runner then follow the 10% rule, only increase your running distance by 10% per week.
Unfortunately, some people will still have discomfort in their lower extremities when they try to run due to other conditions such as; patellofemoral pain syndrome, tendinitis, shin splints or plantar fasciitis. If you’re having symptoms when you try to run then it isn’t recommended to ‘run through the pain.’ Give us a call and get booked in for an online assessment with one of our expert physiotherapists so they can identify the problem and get you running pain free as soon as possible.
This post has been written by Physiotherapist Louis Platt B.Sc. (Hons).
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