Is it a plague unique to our time or has it always been this way? Is it because anybody can be an expert in seconds with the help of Google? What is it with people who know so much more about what’s good for you and what isn’t than you do? They seem to be around every corner, everywhere!
If you are running – at any age – almost everyone, to the point that it will drive you crazy, will tell you that running will wreck your knees and that you shouldn’t do it. You should walk, swim, bungee jump, jump out of airplanes, big game hunt, fantasize about walking on the moon, anything at all – except run.
I’ve never had an answer for those people telling me about my knees other than the fact that I’ve been running for over two years and haven’t hurt my knees yet. I did hurt a knee doing yoga and exacerbated the harm by running immediately afterwards – idiot move. But I have never hurt a knee running. Actually, I can tell my knees have been getting stronger, as have the rest of my legs – and torso, shoulders, arms and feet. Run for a while and then see how much easier it is to get out of body-swallowing sofas and chairs!
But I didn’t have anything to point to that would back up my anecdotal evidence until I found this article in the New York Times: Running May Be Good for Your Knees.
Many people worry that running ruins knees. But a new study finds that the activity may in fact benefit the joint, changing the biochemical environment inside the knee in ways that could help keep it working smoothly.
In my many decades as a runner, fellow runners and nonrunners alike have frequently told me that I am putting my knees at risk. The widespread argument generally follows the lines that running will slowly wear away the cartilage that cushions the bones in the joint and cause arthritis.
But there is little evidence to support the idea, and a growing body of research that suggests the reverse. Epidemiological studies of long-term runners show that they generally are less likely to develop osteoarthritis in the knees than people of the same age who do not run.
Did you see it, that word in the first paragraph, “benefit”?!
The gist of the article is:
These findings suggest that a single half-hour session of running changes the interior of the knee, reducing inflammation and lessening levels of a marker of arthritis, says …[the] lead author of the study.
But sitting for 30 minutes also changed the knee, he points out, which he and his colleagues had not expected. Sitting seemed to make the knee biochemically more vulnerable to later disease.
AHA! Tell me now I shouldn’t run because of my knees!
I admit, I had healthy knees when I started running and I do take a lot of precautions and care with my knees, and feet, back, ankles, heels, etc., etc., now that I am running. I think I’m single-handedly keeping Boiron, the maker of Arnica Montana homeopathic pellets and gel and cream, in business. Arnica reduces swelling and bruising. It is quite miraculous and can help with pain quite a bit if you bang yourself up or are sore after exercise. (And for those of you that are already pooh-poohing because Arnica is a homeopathic, I was completely skeptical until my daughter rammed into her ski pole or a tree – we’re not sure which – with her front tooth and lip, the former coming out and the latter blowing up to amazing proportions. One dose of Arnica pellets and her lip was back to normal sized and far less painful. The tooth, however, was another story….)
My completely made-up-on-my-own theory is that any inflammation when you are running is not a good thing. So, in addition to warming up well, I try to make sure any area that is the least bit sore is well dosed with Arnica – pellets if I feel I need a full-body bath in the gel, which I often did when I first started running, gel if what needs treatment is more localized.
And, as noted in almost every one of my posts, I am not a doctor or physical therapist. I have no training as anything other than a software engineer. Please consult your doctor. I’m just writing about what worked for one particular person, myself. Your results will surely vary.
Another piece of anecdotal evidence is that my husband, who has a bum knee, was told by his orthopedist, who works extensively with sports teams at local colleges, to go ahead and give running a try, that it would be good for his problematic knee.
I was doing yoga before I started running, and I was most often doing strengthening routines (the 30-minute Beginner Balance or 30-minute Beginner Strength routines in the Yoga Studio app by Gaiam, which I highly recommend if you have enough experience doing yoga to be able to practice on your own – and it’s only $1.99, I think, one of the best bargains ever). That means my legs were not completely weak masses of jelly when I started. I would highly recommend doing some sort of strengthening of your legs, hip down, before starting running. You don’t have to be Olympics-strong, just don’t go out there without some supporting muscle for your joints. You can see recommendations along these lines in Runner’s World’s article on knees.
The other knee-related advice I get over and over and over is that I should not run on asphalt, but should run on dirt trails. I don’t have any articles backing up my feeling that this too is dead wrong, but I have the anecdotal evidence that twice I have fallen running, both times on dirt trails. There are roots and rocks on trails that leap up and grab me by the ankles and throw me to the ground. None of that occurs on the roads and paved trails through the local park and college where I run. I’m sticking to asphalt! (Besides, isn’t that why there is so much squishy padding in my sneakers?)
With the weight loss and muscle strengthening I’ve achieved from running, my knees are way better off, far stronger and having to carry around far less weight than they did before I started hitting the pavement. So my anecdotal evidence backs up the findings in the article.
The next time someone tells me I shouldn’t run because it’s bad for my knees, I can tell them they’re dead wrong, that my preferred form of exercise is good for my knees. It will feel good to have scientific evidence to counter busy-body I-know-what’s-best-for-you-better-than-you-do advice! I mean, it’s worth starting to run just so you can correct all those people – am I right?