We’ve all heard of runner’s knee, but what if the hitting the track or the trails wasn’t actually as bad for your joints as previously thought?
One study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that long-distance running isn’t necessarily inherently bad for your joints.
In the experiment, healthy men and women ages 18 to 35 were asked to run for 30 minutes. Before and after the run, researchers analyzed their knee joint fluid for signs of inflammation. In the end, they found “little difference” in the knee joint fluid.
World champion runner and Colonial Road Runners Board of Directors member Stephen Chantry says that his experience echoes these findings.
“There’s this fallacy out there that running hurts your knees,” he says. “That’s not true. Running does not hurt your knees. Improper running can hurt your knees. A lot of people don’t run properly.”
Chantry comes from a family with a long history of joint problems. His grandmother and mother both had severe arthritis. Chantry, the second oldest of ten siblings, notes that many of his younger brothers and sisters also display symptoms of arthritis.
He, however, hasn’t ever suffered from issues with his joints.
“I have zero symptoms,” Chantry says. “I have none. There’s nothing.”
He credits running. Chantry began running track and cross country in high school, and later ran at St. Lawrence University. He says he really got serious about his training when he reached the Masters level. At certain points in his life, Chantry ran 100 miles a week.
Dr. John McCarthy, an orthopedic surgeon with Sentara Healthcare, explains that the cartilage in your joints does not have a direct blood supply. It depends on movement and exercise for nourishment.
That being said, if your joints are already causing you problems, McCarthy notes that high impact activities like running might not be your best bet.
Instead, it’s best to start off with some low impact exercises, like swimming, water aerobics, or elliptical training.
“For someone who has an inflamed joint, I wouldn’t recommend for them to resume their normal mileage,” McCarthy says. “Start out slowly and find your tolerance without aggravating the joint. I would recommend running on softer surfaces. Try to avoid concrete or asphalt. I think it’s always a wise idea to be fitted for shoes. Some people are flat-footed, some people have a high arch. There are a variety of shoes that are made for those styles of feet.”
He recommends that aspiring runners check out a sporting goods store and get fitted for athletic shoes before they start running in earnest.
Colonial Road Runners President Rick Platt advises new runners to try joining a club, as a way of benefiting from the experience of more seasoned athletes.
Platt himself first began running in high school, training under coach and Running Times founder Ed Ayres. While a student at the College of William and Mary, Platt ran on the track team for one year and then joined the swim team after sustaining an injury.
However, he always knew that he wanted to return to running. In 1977, Platt ran a 2:23:55 marathon, coming close to qualifying for the Olympic Trials. He became very involved in the running community, writing about the sport for the Health Journals, the Virginia Gazette, and now-defunct the Running Times magazine. He’s been president of the Colonial Road Runners since 1994.
“I have excellent health. Always have. I attribute that to the fact that I exercise every day. Running is healthy for your legs, if it’s done in the right way.”
Still, he notes that, “If you’re an elite, competitive runner, it’s not if you’ll get injured, it’s when you’ll get injured.”
He’s never had issues with his joints, though. Platt says that running is one of the easiest activities you can do to ensure “a lifetime of health.”
“My knees are in excellent health,” Platt says. “And I’ve estimated that I’ve run around 130,000 miles. I’ve been around the world at least five times, running.”
Read more stories about health and wellness in WYDaily’s Health Section.