“Running is bad for your joints.”
If you’re a runner, you’ve probably heard this from at least five people. I hear it regularly, and my answer always has to do with the things I do outside of running to take care of my joints.
Is running really bad for your joints? It always seems there’s no definitive answer, but how much your joints suffer may also be dependent on the things you do to keep them healthy.
Running = Arthritis: Fact or Myth?
The prevailing thought for years has been that regular running causes arthritis, especially in your knees. While it’s definitely true that running puts a tremendous amount of pressure on your knees, it doesn’t really cause arthritis.
Arthritis is a genetic issue, and if you already have it, running may make it worse. However, running may also help you be more active in later years because the compressive motions of running help push more fluid to your knees for easier movement.
But what if you don’t have arthritis? Not every runner will develop it. Regular running can have its effects on your knees though, which is why it’s important to support your joint health as much as you can before, during, and after you run.
The Importance of Joint Care
According to Judy Cohen of the American Recall Center, “during an average training year, 30% to 50% of runners suffer from an injury that is not easily treatable.” Because the knees carry the brunt of pressure as you run, your cartilage may begin to break down, leading to bone-on-bone rubbing. Shock isn’t absorbed and arthritis develops, and one of the most severe consequences may be the need for the two words no runner ever wants to hear—knee replacement. (For more information about the Zimmer Persona Knee Replacement, please visit this page.)
The good news is that there are a number of things you can do to help support your overall joint health and reduce the stress on your joints while you’re running.
Tips for Keeping Your Joints Healthy
We all have different routines when it comes to getting ready for a run and recovering from one. Because no two people have the same body, it’s important to understand your own body and learn its needs. Doing so makes it easier to get the most from each run and still keep yourself healthy.
1.) Invest in a pair of supportive, comfortable running shoes
Choosing running shoes isn’t easy, trust me. It took me five years to find the best pair for my feet, but it doesn’t have to be that complicated for you. If you’re a serious runner, buying your shoes should be like buying a car. You should get something you really like, because you’ll be spending quite a bit of time in them.
Most runners’ feet fall into one of three categories: flat, neutral, or high-arch. Your foot type will determine your shoe type, and getting the right pair will not only help prevent shin splints and plantar fasciitis, but will also help you land in a better way and reduce stress on your knees.
Runner’s typically purchase their shoes a half-size larger than their regular shoes. And when you’re trying on your shoes, make sure your heel fits snugly in the shoe. It should feel like an extension of your foot and nothing else.
2.) Stretch before and after you run, no matter the distance you plan to go
Warming up with some simple stretches before each run is a must for all runners. Stretching your inner and outer thighs, hamstrings, hips, quads, and calves is essential to a good run. Leg swings and walking lunges are just s couple of my favorite pre-run stretches.
Running can actually tighten your muscles, which may lead to tension, imbalances, muscle pulls, and more. Pre-run stretching help prepare your body for what it’s about to go through, helping to reduce your risk for injury.
Stretching after your run may be the last thing you want to do, but it needs to be done. Maintaining healthy levels of flexibility and motion are important, and stretches like kneeling hip flexors, keeling hamstring, and standing quad and calf are incredibly useful.
3.) Do what you can to maintain a healthy body weight
It’s no secret that a heavier body weight will have more of an impact on your joints, especially when you run. If you’re on the heavy side, decide whether losing weight is a goal. If it is, get started.
According to The Health Site, “One study reported that losing about a pound of weight delivers almost a four-pound reduction in knee joint load for each step” (Source).
Maintain a healthy diet rich in protein and nutrients that provides joint support. Be sure to include foods that are high in calcium and vitamin D, especially.
4.) Consider supplementation to maintain joint health
A quality fish oil supplement is also a great way to improve heart and cardiovascular health, but is essential for reducing running-related joint inflammation, too.
5.) Remember to take one or two rest days each week
Whether you’re a serious runner or just an occasional one, rest days are a huge player in your joint health. Yes, running hurts, but taking those rest days gives your joints and your body a chance to adapt and recover, leaving you ready for your next run.
When you don’t give your body enough rest, you risk overuse, and that makes injuries much more likely. Be nice to your body. Let it recover.
6.) Incorporate resistance exercises and cross-training into your training plan
One of the best ways to build stronger knees is by using resistance training exercises. If you’ve ever heard of “Runner’s Knee,” you know how important strong knees are. Runner’s Knee occurs with overuse, and is what I like to call an alignment problem in the knee. Keeping your quads strong can help you avoid the issue.
When you add cross-training efforts, such as swimming or biking, you’re still giving your body a workout. Using something other than running is a great way to reduce the stress that your knees endure while running. Cross-training is also useful for recovery!
Do you have any tips for joint care? We’d love to hear about how you’re running is going, but also how you’re staying health. Please leave us a comment below!
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Featured Image Credit: Wulfman_87 on Flickr.com.