Running is good for our knees according to a new study. 5 activities for healthy knees.
Does running harm our knees? Do knees simply wear out from the pounding of life and what we do both normally and athletically or is there an inherited genetic difference that may explain why some of us have bad knees and some of us don’t?
Depending on whom you speak with, you will get differing opinions. For example, most orthopedics in the USA are likely to look at your knees when you present with knee pain, as most health providers do. Other healthcare providers are likely to suggest that as we get older, it is normal for things to just wear out. Many runners have had varying experiences but often find the activity helps them function and feel better, while others stop running because they can no longer tolerate the pounding. Why do so many runners vary in their experiences with their own bodies?
The knee is really just a conduit and pulley system, and the act of running on the rest of the lower fascio kinetic chain which includes the feet, ankles, hips, pelvis, and core will lubricate all of these joints which can help mitigate joint damage from wear and tear. Unfortunately, many of us are built asymmetrically and have different styles of feet which may result in poor energy absorption and dispersion while we walk and run leading to pain and injuries due to mechanical inefficiencies we inherited from our parent’s generations. It is the lack of shock absorption in this author’s opinion that results in many of the impact injuries runners have to their lower legs, and knees. In other words, as discussed in the book Cheating Mother Nature, what you need to know to beat chronic pain, we not only look like our parents but walk like them and are likely built like them too.
Inflammation can destroy tissue, and some believe that inflammation from running is likely to help degenerate the knees. A recent study from Brigham Young University suggests that running actually decreases inflammation at the knees(1). This goes against what many researchers and physicians believe, however, there is a growing chorus of providers who specialize in runners who may believe as this study says that running is ultimately good for us and our joints.
We are all built differently, some of us are more likely than others to get injured from running. One current estimate is that 79% of runners get injured (2). The question of course is why. Are these injuries related to our unique adaptation to our body styles and body mechanics, or do bad things happen to nice people who want to stay fit and run? Many injuries develop partially because of a runner’s individual philosophy of running which is the idea that we just run through pain that we do not understand because it is part of the process, but what type of pain is due to training and what type of pain is due to impact? There are things we can do proactively to improve our running style and improve our dispersion of ground forces through the ankle, foot, knee, hip, and pelvis as we move through space during a run.
We move our bodies from the ground up as we take our next step through an unstable activity such as running(3).
Products have been marketed to runners to reduce pain and inflammation such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication such as Nuprin, however, these products will inhibit healing. Omega 3 fish oil products will help you reduce inflammation without affecting how we heal, so this is more desirable as a one size fits all solution, however, are we one size fits all people or do we need to understand what makes us unique and why we are having pain in the first place.
While there will likely be future studies also suggesting that the act of running and movement, in general, is important for the health of our joints, perhaps we need to look at the mechanism of running rather than just the joint and what happens to it. This is especially important since a recent study from the New England Journal of Medicine now suggests that meniscus surgical repair for the knee is no more effective than exercise(4), which perhaps clarifies why so many people who have had this surgery had additional surgeries afterward since the mechanism of injury was never truly addressed.
5 things you can do now to avoid knee pain when running.
- Test yourself, can you do a squat without falling over. If you fall over, you likely need to stabilize your core for the best running experience. A torqued core will make it very difficult to stabilize yourself when you run, and the end result will be impact injuries and possibly knee pain.
- Wear foot orthotics. The right foot orthotic will improve shock from the ground up and level your core, improving your stride and how you distribute the forces of running.
- Foam roll – a good foam rolling regimen can help tight fascia which is the connective tissue that covers all of our muscles and organs to move better. Better movement patterns lead to fewer injuries, faster and better runs.
- Myofascial release and manipulation of the spine and extremities. If we loosen tight fascia but ignore joint motion, especially motion related to the foot, ankle, and hip, you are likely to end up with a distorted core and more pain in the knees. A good sports chiropractor is essential to improving gait mechanisms.
- Core stability exercises such as bird dogs, clamshells, lateral leg raise, gluteal kicks, and foot drills all will help improve your core stability and reduce the impact of forces on the knees.