One of the most common misconceptions that keeps people from running is that it ruins your knees. What are the real risks of damaging your joints? Find out what the science says about joint health and how to adjust your form to protect your knees.
Does running increase your risk of osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis (OA), also called degenerative joint disease, affects millions of people around the world. It occurs as the cartilage that cushions your joints gradually degenerates over time. Degenerative joint disease can be caused by injury, but most often is part of the aging process and symptoms sometimes show up after the age of 50. Typical symptoms of osteoarthritis are stiff, sore joints and/or swelling around the affected areas.
While many people believe that the impact of running on your knees and hips will contribute to cartilage damage, research shows that the reduction in BMI resulting from running has a positive effect on joint health.(1, 2)
How can I change my running form to protect my knees?
Now we know that running actually lowers your risk of osteoarthritis, what other knee injuries do runners experience and how can you avoid them?
Runner’s Knee (IT Band Syndrome), Jumper’s Knee, and Pes Anserinus are the most common knee injuries for runners. If you have knee pain, start by identifying where it hurts so you can treat it properly.
The first step is to give yourself a break. As always, listen to your body; it might be time to focus on recovery.
Evaluate your running form to prevent knee problems from developing. Next time you go out for a run, scan your entire body and correct your form gradually. Don’t worry about being perfect, it takes time to relearn how to run in a healthy way. Follow these steps to assess your technique.
5 Steps to Improve Your Running Form
Step 1: Look down. Are your feet pointing in the direction you are running? If not, focus on straightening them out. Splayed feet put unnecessary strain on your knee joints when you run.
Step 2: Keep your knees slightly bent and relaxed. Let them bounce as you run. Be careful not to straighten your legs, overstride, and land on your heels.
Step 3: Lean your whole body slightly forward starting at the ankles and keep your spine straight up to the top of your head. Imagine a straight line going up your spine to the top of your skull.
Step 4: Bend your elbows at a 90 degree angle and pull them back behind you to propel yourself forward. Keep your arms active and your fists loose.
Step 5: Tuck your chin in slightly and look straight ahead of you. Keep your neck long, your shoulders loose, relax your face muscles, and enjoy the strength and grace of your body.
If you’re just getting into running, start slowly. Gradually increase your distance and allow your body time to recover on rest days. Don’t overdo it.
Build Muscle Strength to Support Joint Health
Strength training focused specifically on your lower body will reduce the load on your hips and knee joints. Include lower body workouts in your exercise routine to build muscle in your glutes, hamstrings, and quads. The adidas Training app offers a wide range of workouts targeting specific muscle groups.
Varying your workout type makes exercise more fun and is also much healthier than always doing the same thing. Cross training with low impact cardio will give your body a different set of challenges and will reduce the risk of repetitive strain or overuse injuries.
Running Shoes for Joint Support
Choosing the right shoes as a beginner runner can seem overwhelming. There are several factors to consider when making the decision, including your arches, pronation, and where you run. Read through our tips on choosing the right shoe.
Look for a moderately cushioned shoe with medium stability to allow you to feel connected to the surface you’re running on while also giving you adequate cushioning to absorb the pounding on your joints.
The barefoot running school of thought argues that the artificial cushioning and stability of conventional running shoes makes your body unlearn how to run naturally. By running barefoot or in minimalist shoes, you enhance foot strength and improve running economy. If you decide to give barefoot running a try, start slowly, land softly, and take good care of your feet.
Run for Your Joint Health
Is running bad for your knees? Absolutely not. Statistically, runners are at a lower risk of developing osteoarthritis in their knees than non-runners. So, lace up your shoes – or take them off if you’re ready to give barefoot running a try – and get started. If you make a habit of running and keep a regular schedule, peppered with cross-training and strength training, your knees will thank you in the years to come.