Running is a highly popular, easily accessible physical activity that provides a number of physical and mental health benefits including reduced risk of mortality and chronic health conditions.
Despite this, for many years there has been a stigma attached to running from many health professionals and those in the community that running is bad for your knee joint and causes osteoarthritis (OA). For quite a few people this has meant that they been advised to reduce or stop running in order to protect their joint, yet there is little evidence to support this approach.
However, there is a growing amount of research that demonstrates recreational running in distances up to a marathon has a protective effect against the development of knee OA compared to non-runners. Runners should understand that there are other risk factors more likely to increase the risk of OA including higher body mass, previous knee injury, previous knee surgery and heavy occupational workloads rather than running alone.
Management and progression of training loads, strength training, adequate recovery (including sleep) and running technique improvement are important to consider to minimise the risk of knee injury.
Cross-training with appropriately guided strengthening, Pilates, non-weightbearing activities and other associated remedial therapies such as joint mobilization, massage, dry needling and myotherapy can assist to improve recovery and reduce injury risk.
Pain and injury are likely to develop when the body is pushed passed it’s capacity, such as when training loads are too heavy or not increased gradually, and also when biomechanics of gait are sub-optimal. This is where seeking guidance from a physiotherapist can be invaluable – to assess what can be improved and how. This may be as simple as planning training loads, looking at key muscle groups to strengthen or assessing foot and lower limb biomechanics.
To summarise, the total running an individual can tolerate will vary from person to person and will depend on factors previously mentioned. Be sure though that running at an appropriate level for yourself will not cause you any damage to your knees, and instead likely help them.