“How are your knees?” I’m sure you’ve been asked that question before. But not by your doctor or physiotherapist, but by non-running friends and relatives who assume that the body is severely damaged by the impact of running and that we will very likely need artificial knee prostheses and help for our arthritic joints in old age.
Arthrosis is a non-inflammatory joint disease. It occurs when the joint cartilage, which acts as a shock absorber, is damaged. Stress-intensive movements start to hurt, and that’s why many people think that running is the way to speed up the process. And while most of us attribute it to running that heart and lungs remain healthy and the soul is happy, a prick in the ankle or stiffness in the knee give us cause to wonder whether our non-running friends are right and our joints have to endure unacceptable strain.
The fact is – and doctors confirm this: If we run sensibly – wear correctly fitted and cushioned shoes and replace them in due course, heal injuries correctly, integrate alternative training and rest days into the training plan – we are no more susceptible to osteoarthritis than normal consumers. In fact, the doubters in the background have a higher risk of developing arthrosis.
Weighing knee pain
The number one risk factor for arthritis is excessive body fat – a problem most runners don’t have! Overweight people who sit a lot are 45 percent more likely to develop arthritis than active people. “The more you weigh, the more pressure on the joints, and this seems to accelerate joint wear,” says the American arthrosis foundation. Since weight loss is one of the best ways to prevent degenerative joint disease and running is one of the best calorie killers, running units can, therefore, help to counter joint problems.
But running does not only help with weight loss. Aerobic training improves many bodily functions, including joint health. When you exercise, the cartilage in the hip, knees, and ankle is compressed and stretched. This causes more oxygen to enter the cartilage and waste products are transported away more easily. This nourishes the cartilage and keeps it healthy.
Without sufficient exercise, the cartilage cells become weak and ill. Running also strengthens the ligaments that support the joints. It keeps them more stable and makes them less susceptible to sprains and dislocations that can damage the cartilage and ultimately lead to osteoarthritis.
Favor soft ground
The same effect can also lead to patellofemoral pain syndrome, the so-called runner’s knee. This is a disease of cartilage tissue in the form of inflammation, softening and degeneration. If you neglect the strengthening of the muscles and ligaments that support the kneecap, it can shift in such a way that it causes pain and possibly arthritis.
Fortunately, all this can be avoided from the outset. First: Do not run with joint pain. Second: If possible, stay on soft surfaces when running. Third: Wear properly fitted and cushioned running shoes. And fourth, include strengthening exercises in your training program. And: Address joint problems sooner rather than later, because this will protect you from long-term damage. In addition, you can still draw your circles around your non-running friends for years.