If you’re the only one in your family that runs, you get a lot of practice answering annoying questions. “Is running bad for your knees?” is one of the most common and definitely the most annoying. After 60 years of running medicine and research, the scientific community is now able to answer this question definitively, and we’re here to bring that news to you! Running is not “bad” for your knees. And, today we’ll show you the research to prove it!
The question “is running bad for your knees?” is difficult to answer in the first place because it is vague. What does it mean for something to be “bad” in the context of health? Oxford defines “bad” as “not…to be hoped for or desired; unpleasant or unwelcome.” Let’s also add time to the equation and think both short and long term. This way, we can get a complete answer to such a slippery question.
Is running bad for your knees in the short term?
Exercise is generally healthy for our joints. But sometimes our running plus our life stresses go beyond what our body can comfortably tolerate. When that happens, we feel pain. Runners, in particular, have high rates of overuse injury, and knee injuries are some of the most common. So yes, running can cause minor knee injuries. But if you avoid running through pain and address those issues when they show up, these problems will resolve quickly and have no lasting effects.
So is running bad for your knees in the short term? No. Running comes with the risk of pain, but is generally healthy for our joints. The key is sensible training and moderation.
Is running bad for your knees in the long term?
This is where the question gets more interesting. One of the most serious “bad” things that can happen to joints is osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is when the cartilage at the end of bones wears down, causing pain and disability. If you run for the national team or at the Olympic level, you have a slightly higher risk of developing osteoarthritis than the average person, but most of us don’t need to worry about this. In fact, recreational runners have LOWER rates of osteoarthritis than the population as a whole. The theory is that the pounding of each stride keeps the cartilage hydrated and healthy. Joints, like muscles, actually need training to stay strong. On top of all that, those with osteoarthritis may actually BENEFIT from running.
If we look at the sum of the evidence. Running is not “bad” for your knees over the course of your life. Yes, it comes with a risk of developing minor knee pain. But, knee pain is easily solvable if it does show up. If we avoid running because of the risk of pain, we’re throwing out the baby with the bathwater!
The best exercises for long term knee health
Even if you’re not worried about knee pain, it’s a good idea to keep your knees and the muscles around them strong to lower the risk of injury.
Exercise 1: Step Ups
Why it works: This is a great workout to strengthen the quads and glutes while also improving the overall strength of your legs.
Exercise 2: Side Leg Raises
Why it works: The combination of quad and glute exercises has been shown to improve knee pain synergistically.
Exercise 3: Rear Foot Elevated Split squats
Why it works: for our money, this is one of the best movements ever. It fixes everything and makes you strong in every way!
Running provides enormous health benefits with very small, solvable risks. We have to keep what’s valuable even if it comes with some unwanted baggage. Next time someone tells you that running is bad for your knees, explain that sometimes you’ve got to risk it to get the biscuit.
Proactive resistance training (we call it prehab) has been shown to increase every aspect of running performance and one study even found it reduces injury risk by over 57%. If that sounds like something you’d benefit from, we’d love it if you gave the Recover Athletics App a try. There is an unlimited free trial and a year’s subscription costs less than one trip to a PT if you get injured!