With all that being said, a lot of people think that running is bad for the knees and bones and cause some serious injury.
Couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, there’s plenty of research (some of which shared below) showing that running actually does more good than harm to our bones and joints.
Would like to learn more about what science has to say about the impact of running on your bones and joints’ health? Then today’s your lucky day!
In today’s article, I’ll also discuss some of the ways that running can help increase bone strength, reduce inflammation, and prevent joint degenerative disease.
Running & Bone Strength
Osteoporosis is a serious public health problem that affects 200 million people worldwide, with roughly 40 million people in the United States alone, according to the National Institute of Health.
Meaning “porous bone”, osteoporosis is a bone disease that features weak and easily broken bones, especially in the hips, spine, wrists, and shoulders. This crippling disease occurs when the body loses too much bone density, makes too little it, or both.
But here is the good news. Research shows that regular running can increase bone density, which may help prevent osteoporosis and other bone-related issues as we get older.
Is Running Bad For Your Bones?
When running, you’re engaging most of the major bones among the roughly 200 in the human body. The process starts off the moment your foot hits the ground, then continues throughout the gait motion.
The main “running bones” include:
- The femur, or the thigh bone, which is the longest bone in the human body.
- The tibia
- The fibula
- The pelvic girdle.
Logging miles puts significant stress on these bones. This shouldn’t surprise you, especially if you’ve ever dealt with sore shins or knees following a hard run.
But just because you feel a bit sore doesn’t mean it’s bad for you. In fact, this stress can actually do your body more good than harm.
Let’s explain. Depending on a range of factors, including your running style, speed, and distance, pounding the pavement can put up to three or four times your body weights on your joints and bones on each step. So, for example, if you weight 160 pounds, that’s an additional 450 to 500 pounds of impact. That’s quite a lot!
Research also shows that once you pick up the speed, and start sprinting, that volume shoots up for seven times your body weight. That adds up.
Do more than your body can handle and you’ll end up in pain, or worse, injured. Common conditions include shin splints and stress fractures.
Just as much exercise breaks down your muscle fibers, then start rebuilding, coming back stronger and bigger than before, so do your bones—the same thing happens to your bones, but slower
What does this mean for runners?
This means that the weight-bearing bones of the spine, pelvis, and, the legs, in runners tend to be stronger than the same bones in sedentary individuals. Harder you move, harder to break.
In a study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, a team of researchers examined the bone density of 122 marathon runners, as well as 81 half-marathon and 10K race athletes.
Then, after undergoing an ultrasonographic assessment of the right and left calcaneus; the researchers compared the athletes’ bones with those of 75 sedentary individuals.
The researchers found that the running group had much healthier bone density than the sedentary group.
Not only that, endurance athletes—half marathon and marathon runners—had denser bone than those who participated in shorter distances races.
Classic cardio exercises, such as swimming, cycling, and rowing do not train your bones the way running does, according to the researchers. Of course, since they targeting your cardiovascular fitness most of the time, unlike running.
Research conducted at the University of Missouri reported that running is better for building strong bones than traditional resistance training.
Bone density is a measurement of the mineral content inside of the bones. People with elevated bone mineral content are less likely to suffer from osteoporosis-related fractures, research shows.
In healthy people (and animals), the bones respond to stress by growing, adapting, remodeling, rebuilding, and transforming due to impact stresses. This is what’s known as Wolfe’s Law.
The greater the stresses to a particular bone, the greater the osteoblast reaction—the bone-forming cells process that functions in groups of connected cells.
So is running bad for your bones? Of course no.
Running And Joint Health—is Running Bad for Your Knees?
Whether you’re a complete beginner trying to get in shape for your first 5K or an elite marathoner who regularly cranks out 40 to 60 miles a week, chances are you’ve heard that running can cause permanent knee damage.
In fact, spend any length of time in the running world, and you’ll hear things like: “You’ll need a knee replacement in your 40’s”, “Running will ruin your knees”, or simply “running is bad for your joints”.
This is, hands down, one of the most entrenched myths about running, especially among non-runners.
I understand the logic. Running is high impact, and its repetitive nature might wear away at your knees.
That’s why lots of trainees shy away from running wrongfully believing that the high impact nature of the sport can spell disaster on the joints, especially the knee.
But, yet again, science to the rescue. Recent research shows that pounding the pavement is unlikely to cause knee issues such as arthritis, ironically and specifically because of the nature of the sport.
Plenty of research has compared groups of runners and non-runners over extended periods of time and found little to no evidence that runners are at higher risk osteoarthritis nor knee surgery more often than the norm.
Some of the researchers go as far as to claim that running is actually what you need to protect your knees from chronic conditions.
Here is a quick overview of some of the studies that have debunked the “Running is bad for your knees” myth:
Let’s start with research published in Knee Surgery, Sports Traumatology.
A group of five men and five women in their 40’s (with an average BMI of 25.9), went on a supervised six-month marathon plan, training for an average of 20 miles a week. By the end of the experiment, they completed the race.
To measure running’s impact on knee cartilage, the thickness and volume of cartilage in different spots in the subjects’ knees were examined both before and after the event, while using highly sensitive 3D MRI analysis.
More specifically, the researchers looked at the volume and thickness of cartilage at different places in the knees while using highly sensitive 3D MRI analysis.
No real damage was picked up by the sensors. The examined knees remained unchanged by training for and completing the whole 26.2-mile race.
Moreover, the researchers also concluded that runners were at less risk of arthritis than their sedentary peers.
Research II – Running Impact on The hip Joint
Running is also safer on your joints than walking, according to a study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.
Research looking at the number of hip replacements and cases of osteoarthritis of 74,752 runners and 14,625 walkers over a period of 5.7 years found that running does not increase the chances of joint-related problems, like osteoarthritis, even if you participate in marathons on a regular basis.
the researchers concluded that the runners were less likely to develop arthritis than their non-active counterparts. The running group needed fewer hip replacement surgeries and had fewer cases of osteoarthritis than the walkers.
Do you know what’s the primary risk factor for joint conditions? It’s actually obesity. In fact, research shows that your risk for joint-related diseases increases five percent for every point increase in body mass index.
Research III – A case of Inflammation
Running helps reduce inflammation in the knee joint, according to researchers out of Brigham Young University.
The researchers looked at two markers for inflammation by measuring the synovial fluid, which is the liquid that helps lubricate the cartilage and bone within the capsule, for two proteins (known as GM-CFS and IL-15) that indicate the presence of harmful inflammation and could signal changes related to the onset of arthritis.
The researchers found that levels of both proteins decreased in concentration in the subjects after the session, suggesting a reduction in overall inflammation in the joint.
According to the researchers, running is chondroprotective, which might be beneficial in delaying the onset of joint-related diseases, such as osteoarthritis.
This not only proves that running is not bad for your knees but suggest that pounding the pavement helps prevent knee issues.
The lack of scientific evidence that running increases the risks of osteoarthritis, even among those participating in long-distance running, is quite conclusive. This might surprise the lot of you, but the science is quite strong.
So is running bad for your knees? Hell no!
Still looking for more proof or research?
Check the following links
How to Take care of Your Joints & Bones While Running
Start running, and sooner or later, you’ll injure yourself. Surveys estimate that half of the running population gets injured over the course of one year.
Here’s the bad news. Up to 40 percent of these injuries afflict the knees—with runners knee, or PTFS, being one of the most notorious and dreaded overuse injuries out there. Knee pain from running really sucks.
Running itself isn’t to blame. It’s actually the way you train. Do the following to prevent joints pain and injury while logging the miles:
- Train Smart. If you’re a beginner, don’t try to chew more than you can swallow. Instead, start with walk-running to safely build your stamina and get your body used to the high impact nature of running.
- Do not overtrain. Be aware of the terrible too’s research also shows that runners risk stress fractures in the lower limbs when they do too much too soon and/or when they lack certain dietary and nutritional ingredients.
- Strengthen your glutes. According to research, adding strength and stability to your lower body muscles, especially the glutes and the hips, can provide better support and stability to your knees, which in turn may help alleviate and prevent knee pain. You should also work on your hip flexors flexibility.
- Take Enough rest. Space out your running days with at least one day of full rest or low-impact cross-training workout. This way you ensure your muscles and joints have well-rested and recovered following a run.
- Build a proper form. This is fundamental.
- Get the right shoes. Head to your local specialty running store and get fitted with the most appropriate pair that’s in line with your running gait and foot type. You should also replace your running shoes regularly.
- Check your history. If you have a history of bone or joint injury or have a genetic disposition for such conditions, then long-distance running might not be a good idea. Instead, change up your training approach, take things slow, and see what the future holds for you.
- Vary Your Running surfaces. Hard surfaces, such as concrete and asphalt, increase the stress load of each footstep you take, therefore, a possible overload of the bones and joints. Instead, remember to change up the surfaces you run on, alternating hard and soft, such as trail and grass.
- Listen to your body. The most important measure you can take to avoid all sorts of pains and injury is to pay attention to your body. If you feel like you’re coming down with an injury, slow down, ice the affected area, or stop training altogether until you’re pain-free. Don’t always hold on to painkillers.