If I hear one thing more than anything else from non-runners, it’s how running is going to destroy my knees. Now, I’m not 80 years old, obviously, or I’ve discovered the fountain of youth, you’ll never know. But what I can say is that we’re going to look and see what the research says about running and your knees. Is it going to hurt you in the long term? Are you going to be able to walk when you’re older? What does it actually have to say? 

I’m Jessie Funk and if you haven’t been on this channel before, this is a little show I like to call a Runner’s High. It’s all about running and the ways you can be a better runner and little tidbits like today’s ‘does running affect your knees’. So, if that sounds like something you’re interested in, or you run, hit that little button in the bottom right-hand corner, subscribe to the channel, stay tuned for future videos. 

So, when I started running and even now, the one thing I heard from, well affectionately referred to as a group as old people was, I used to run but my knees gave out, and I just can’t do it no more. Though I think we can sympathize with the plight of my imaginary old man, you have to know that this story is so common. I’ve heard it so many times I just felt like it had to be true.

And this idea even persisted into college until the time when one of my coaches Doc, even though he was not an MD, he was a professor Doc. Before he left us and we changed over staff, he made sure to give me and the other runners this article, this research article that basically said, in fact, running doesn’t only not destroy your knees, but it may actually be beneficial for your knees in the long run. 

This is a really counterintuitive thing that goes against all these, again, I say old people, but these people that have had knee problems, and they were runners at some point. We have all that anecdotal evidence against this kind of scientific research. So, it was kind of hard to figure out what to believe. Now, you and I both live very different lives. We both run, but I have a different genetic makeup than you.

We both eat different foods, we have different work schedules, you’re probably not shooting YouTube videos like I am. We have all these different stressors in our lives that lead to incidences of different rates of injury, and the genetic makeup maybe predisposes us to certain issues that other people don’t have or do have or whatever it is. 

My point being, there’s so many factors, it’s hard to say for sure that it’s like okay, running clearly cause that caricature of that old person’s problems. That’s how they assign it, they see that causal link. But I’m more inclined to believe the data.

So, when you have a research study, like the one that Doc gave me, as well as the numerous other studies that have been done that basically say, when we look at the correlation between running, knees, and old age, runners actually have a lower incidence of knee injuries in old age or incidences of arthritis or osteoarthritis.

So, I think we can say that it’s pretty safe even though causality is not always going to be with correlation there. We know that it’s likely to in a group of runners, running probably does not cause those issues. 

There’s going to be other things, other factors in your life that makes you more predisposed to have arthritis and those kinds of issues. One of those factors is maybe possibly non-PC as it is to say is bodyweight, right? I mean, we know as runners that our weight has some effect on our performance, right?

But it’s not just our performance. We have to know that our body weight affects the impact that we take when we run. And on top of that, just when we move around. The heavier we are, the more load that our joints take. So, there is a possibility that because as runners were typically a leaner group of people compared to average Joe, that our joints take less pounding, less stress over time. And that maybe one of the reasons that we see some of that correlation of runners having lower incidences of knee injuries. 

On top of that, there’s actually some studies and the possibility that running may be beneficial for your knees, not just not problematic, but have a positive impact on your knees. And the thing here is that overtime at a certain age we reach where our bone density starts going down, which means that our bones are more fragile, which is why it’s easier to kind of jokingly break a hip when you get older. But what kind of helps prevent that or keeps bone density higher is stress.

So, when you play stress in your body via running, then your body adapts and tries to keep that bone density higher. So, it’s possible although the evidence isn’t super conclusive quite yet, it’s possible that if we do run as we get older, that that helps our bone density stay higher. Meaning, that we should have even lower incidences of knee issues or other skeletal issues altogether. 

On the other hand, there’s no accounting for acute injury. Take my father as an example. He began running in his early 60s as a consequence of me running and he ended up later on in his early 70s, hurting his knee through acute injury while he was on the treadmill, and he’s really no longer able to run without pain.

He refuses to see a doctor, I can’t convince him to do that. And he also didn’t ever have the greatest running form. He’s a really hard heel striker, despite my insistence on trying to get him to work on his running form. If you have a parent, and I assume that you do because you’re a human, you may know that it’s kind of difficult to get your parents to do anything, even if you have more experience in it than them. 

So, if there’s an acute injury, it doesn’t really matter whether you’ve been running or not running. That’s something that you have to deal with as a particular incident, at that particular point in time. And sometimes those external factors that should help us or should hurt us really don’t matter anymore because it’s acute. It happens in a very short period of time.

It’s kind of a snap kind of injury and that may take us out too. But we can’t really worry about that. What we know is, again, looking at the data,  running is actually probably positive for us and does not affect our knees negatively. And as mentioned, it’s possible that running has a positive effect on your knees. 

So, if you’re worried about am I going to destroy my knees, am I gonna be able to walk when I’m older? Make sure you’re using good form, but then otherwise, don’t worry about it, go out and run. If you don’t know about form, on a video popping up on the screen here shortly, I’ll give you an example when I went to the track I kind of demo form and talk about that a little bit. So, check out that video here in a second, and I’ll see you next time on the next episode of Runner’s High.