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Running and knees/knee osteoarthritis

Updated: Oct 10, 2023

Is running really bad for your knees?

The short answer is NO, running is GOOD for your knees! Studies have shown us that recreational running is associated with less hip and knee osteoarthritis, and reduce the odds of needing a joint replacement. A study looking at over 125,000 people found the prevalence of hip and knee osteoarthritis in recreational runners was 3.5%, compared to 10.2% of sedentary people!

Injuries are common when running, and knee injuries make up on average 1 out of 4 of these injuries. However, we know that pain is not always associated with damage, and just as muscles and bones adapt to loading, joint cartilage also responds in the same way. It is important to listen to your body, and adjust your running load if you do have pain or symptoms with running in the short term. This will ensure any niggles do not progress to keep you out of running.

So what about running with knee osteoarthritis? Well, we know that cyclic compressions of the joints are necessary to maintain healthy joint cartilage. And studies show that running does not create new lesions in joint cartilage – that is to say that running does not increase the progression of osteoarthritis symptoms or on imaging. Coupled with the fact that running reduces the odds of needing a joint replacement, all of this suggests that running could be good for knees!

But, it is important to respond to what your body is telling you! If you have symptomatic knee osteoarthritis, it is important not to push through the pain, and to ensure your symptoms do not increase after running or into the next day. If this occurs, try to reduce your running distance, slow your running speed down slightly, or stick to flat surfaces. It is important to remember that these strategies are only temporary, and you will be able to return to your normal running gradually once your pain settles. Your physiotherapist can help guide you through these flares and ensure you and your knees remain happy, and enjoy running!

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