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Runs, Walks, and Your Knees

By Rachel Carver

Have you ever told an avid runner their hobby will hurt their knees as they age? Are you a runner who hears this? If you answered yes to either of these questions, you might be surprised to learn that regular running and walking may actually be beneficial to the health of your knees.

This school of thought has some merit. The constant pounding of each foot as you run causes the knees to absorb up to three times an individual's body weight. However, running has been shown to strengthen bones. and a 10-year study could not definitively associate running with a higher risk of developing osteoarthritis.

The Research

University of Maryland researchers used gait analysis, musculoskeletal modeling, and knee contact mechanics to analyze how running impacts knee cartilage. Twenty-two healthy participants ran and  walked while the researchers gathered data. With this data, they created a computer model to see how healthy knee cartilage would be affected in the future.

The data suggested that, if cartilage breaks down without repairing itself, running and walking can have devastating effects on the knees. According to the model, daily walkers had a 36 percent chance of developing arthritis by age 55. The model gave daily runners a 98 percent chance of developing arthritis at some point in life. However, taking into account the knee's ability to actively repair itself dropped the arthritis risk of both groups to just 13 percent.

Knee Pain From Walking and Running

Though this is promising research, knee pain from regular activity still occurs. Joint pain can sometimes be part of regular exercise. Issues that may lead to knee pain include:

  • Runner's knee - This issue forces the patella out of alignment and irritates the cartilage
  • Patellar tendinitis - This injury causes pain and irritation to the tendon connecting the kneecap to the shinbone

The Good News

These injuries are usually temporary. Research shows that lasting damage caused by osteoarthritis may be significantly reduced because cartilage can repair itself. Runners do stress out their knees. But the fact that runners do not have a higher occurrence of knee osteoarthritis than the rest of us indicates that regular running may not cause the deterioration of the joint's cartilage.

So, the next time you feel like going for a run, go for it. You may not completely avoid knee pain, but there are many health benefits associated with regular running and walking. Regular exercise improves mood, increases energy, and can be a great stress management tool.

To learn more about your health, wellness, and fitness, see your local chiropractor at The Joint Chiropractic in Fort Mill, S.C.

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