The idea that running is bad for your knees is a popular fitness myth, according to many doctors and surgeons who are experts in joint health. In fact, there are a lot of misconceptions about running and its impact on the body. We asked six joint experts to explain the real story behind running and your joints. Here’s what they said:
Running Doesn’t Cause Arthritis
Contrary to popular belief, running does not cause arthritis or osteoarthritis later in life. “I think people have this misconception because we draw these conclusions from people who have run for a long time who have knee pain,” says Karen Morice, MD, an attending physician in the department of rehabilitation medicine at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.
“But you know what else happens over time? People get older, which is exactly when arthritis all over the body happens — running or not. So it could be coincidence,” Dr. Morice says. Shazia Bég, MD, a board-certified rheumatologist at the University of Central Florida College of Medicine in Orlando, agrees. “Most studies show there isn’t any correlation between running and developing osteoarthritis. The biggest risk factor for developing osteoarthritis is age,” says Dr. Bég. “Think of your body like a car: The more miles you put on it, the more there’s a chance to damage it, there’s more wear and tear. The more miles you put on your joints, the more chance there is for degeneration,” Bég adds. It’s also genetic, she says, so you’re at a higher risk if there’s a history of arthritis in your family — whether you’re a runner or not.
Running When Injured Causes Serious Damage
“There’s never been a study to show that running on its own generates arthritis or directly causes any kind of damage to the knee,” says Tracy Ray, MD, an associate professor of orthopedic surgery at Duke University School in Durham, North Carolina. “If you already do have some damage to your knee, however, you can generate further damage — but the same is true for any kind of weight-bearing activity, like playing basketball,” Dr. Ray says. He explains that this holds true for the person who runs nine miles a week as well as the person who logs 40 miles a week. “It really depends on the existing health of your knee. If you haven’t had an injury, or you don’t have a diagnosis or X-ray that indicates wear and tear on the cartilage, there’s nothing that would indicate that it’s unsafe for you to train,” adds Ray.