Topic of Interest

To Run or Not to Run?

By: Dr. Mel Eggebrecht, DPT, CWT, CSST
sPorT plus physical therapy, LLC

Are you sure you should be running? What about your knees? Won’t running make your knees worse? Chances are, if you’ve ever been a runner or ever thought about running, these questions have crossed your mind. Or perhaps the minds of family or friends who assume the pavement pounding is destroying your joints and you’ll eventually need a knee replacement because of your arthritic joints.

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type of arthritis, affecting nearly 27 million Americans. 2 OA is a degenerative disease which occurs when cartilage, the spongy tissue that cushions the bones in a joint, breaks down and deteriorates, making weight-bearing activities painful. Knowing this, many people believe that running accelerates this process.

The number one risk factor for developing OA is excess body fat. Sedentary, overweight people are 45 percent more likely to develop OA than those who are active. 4 Losing weight is one way to prevent OA. Losing 10 pounds can take about 45 pounds of pressure off the knee. 4 Running is an effective calorie burner and may contribute to improved joint health.

Research supports there are many benefits from running. Running not only helps in weight reduction, it improves body functions including your heart and lungs, but also your joint health. When you perform weight bearing exercises, the cartilage in your hips, knees, and ankles compresses and expands. This draws in oxygen and flushes out waste products, nourishing and keeping cartilage healthy. 3 Furthermore, running strengthens the ligaments that help support the joints, making them more stable and less susceptible to injury which can damage cartilage and eventually lead to OA.

So what about the injury predictions for the long term effects of running? A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine shows that running was not associated with greater rates of OA and runners do not require more total knee replacements than non-runners. 3 The fact is if you run responsibly you’re no more susceptible to OA than the general population. This is not to say that running is the only activity that’s good for you. Vigorous activity has a larger impact on our health but we can’t ignore the helpful benefits of activity at all levels. It’s important to be physically active, no matter what the level, your whole life. 3 Exercise is still the best medicine.