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Let’s Talk About Running, Walking, and Knee Health

Hey Angels and Alphas,

I’m sure you’ve heard someone tell you that running, be it for weight loss or just regular jogging, is definitely “bad for your knees.” And sometimes, you might have even experienced short-term twinges of pain in your knees or right after you’ve had a long jog. 

But the latest research out there actually points toward the opposite – developing a running and walking routine could be very beneficial to your knee cartilage, helping keep you mobile and healthy as you’re aging. 

On the one hand, it looks a little paradoxical. When you measure the impact that running has on the body, it’s easy to see that your knees are taking a pounding by basically absorbing up to three times of the individual’s body weight with each step.

That being said, running has been long known for strengthening your bones, and other decade-long studies have found it is not associated with an increased risk of developing osteoarthritis. 

To learn more about this, researchers over at the University of Maryland used strategies such as gait analysis and musculoskeletal modeling to analyze the impact running has on the knee cartilages. 

They wanted to find out whether or not cartilage withstands the stress induced by running and actually adapts to it rather than wearing them down (which often happens in a variety of animals.) 

What they did was bring together 22 otherwise healthy participants and had them run and walk while the researchers are gathering data on gait, the force applied with footfall, and knee mechanics. 

Finally, they created a computer model to predict what would happen to a healthy knee cartilage over an extended period of time if it experienced the natural stressors caused by running.

They’ve discovered that, if cartilage breaks down without the adequate time to repair itself in between sessions of running, it can ultimately lead to wear and tear on the knees. In the model, people who walked daily had a 1/3 chance to develop arthritis by their mid-50s, while daily runners had a 98 percent change of eventually developing arthritis. 

Those numbers are pretty scary, but here’s the good news.

When the researchers started factoring in the natural ability of the knees to repair themselves and create thicker, stronger cartilage, the incidence for both groups fell to just about 13 percent which is way more consistent with what we’re seeing out in the real world. 

Not to say that knee pain isn’t an adequate and legitimate concern, but several structural problems can lead to pain, including something like “runner’s knee.” This is an issue in which the patella moves out of alignment, causing stress and irritation on the cartilage. 

Another issue is patellar tendinitis, also known as “jumper’s knee” – it’s basically an injury to one of the tendons that connect your shinbone to your kneecap. 

You then have IT band syndrome, which occurs when you have a tight iliotibial band that squeezes a fluid-filled sac between the band and the exterior of the knee.

That being said, all of these are short-term injuries. 

Long-term damage due to something like osteoarthritis could potentially be reduced significantly by the cartilage’s natural ability to repair and adapt to stress and damage. 

In the study done by the University of Maryland, researchers noted that running lead to the accumulation of a great deal of damage per unit of distance traveled. This means the knees have to respond and adapt to extend their shelf life but determining the exact amount of volume needed was a more difficult task.

Since runners actually do not have a higher incidence of developing knee osteoarthritis than people who don’t make a habit out of running, research has concluded that running doesn’t tend to wear out the joint’s cartilage. 

This is great news for walkers, runners, and cardio-lovers. If you’re someone who likes to jog mile after mile and you love the benefits it gives you, keep it up – there are countless health and fitness benefits that come with running and they definitely outweigh the small risk you’re putting your joints at.  Same with walking routines.

If you have a running or walking routine and you’re experiencing any pain in the knees or joints, you might want to consult an expert. Depending on your situation, you might need to take a break from your routine, or you might actually be making your knees better and stronger.

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