John (not his real name) came to see me the other day, “Doc, I am thinking about running, I would like to complete a 10k race in 6 months, but I am worried about my knees. I have read on the internet and been told by friends that running is bad for your knees and causes arthritis. What do you think?”
John has not been running since he was at university. He is 35 years old, weighs 82kg and is 168cm tall with a BMI of 29 (overweight). He goes to the gym and does light weights 3 times a week. There are no other medical conditions that would stop him from running.
There is a large amount of evidence that exercise reduces your risk of death. All-cause mortality (death) is reduced by up to 30% by exercising for 30 minutes 3 times a week. The Australian Department of Health advises that any physical exercise is good, but recommends:
“Accumulating 150 to 300 minutes (2 ½ to 5 hours) of moderate intensity physical activity or 75 to 150 minutes (1 ¼ to 2 ½ hours) of vigorous intensity physical activity, or an equivalent combination of both moderate and vigorous activities, each week.”
Running is a great way to accumulate time required for exercise, at both moderate and high intensity. It does not appear to cause any form of arthritis, with studies showing recreational runners (as opposed to professional runners) had lower rates of Osteoarthritis (OA) than sedentary individuals. If someone with OA starts running, there is no evidence that this will make the pre-existing OA any worse. Indeed, there is particularly good evidence to suggest that running, over time and in combination with weight loss, can assist with moderate reduction in the amount of pain experienced from OA of the knees.
Most people experience some pain in the knees and ankles when they commence running. This is to be expected and is related to commencing an exercise that they had not previously done. The key to reducing the level of pain or discomfort is to build slowly. Just because you were able to run 10k when you were at university does not mean that you are able to now. There are online running plans that will assist in the safe progression of distance and speed that can be accessed. If you are not able to access such plans, an increase of distance by 10% each week is considered safe. Do not worry about going fast, that will come in time. Be consistent and persevere with the training.
John returned following 3 months of running. When he first started, he found some knee and buttock pain, which settled over 2 weeks. He is now running 8k, 3 times a week and has lost 4 kg. He is looking forward to completing his 10k race and is considering a half marathon.
Men’s Health Information
For information related to common men’s health conditions in Queensland and Australia from Dr Clem Bonney, visit MensHealth-QLD.com.au today.
Leitzmann MF, Park Y, Blair A, et al. Physical Activity Recommendations and Decreased Risk of Mortality. Arch Intern Med. 2007;167(22):2453–2460. doi:10.1001/archinte.167.22.2453
Oguma Y, Sesso HD, Paffenbarger RS, et al 2002, “Physical activity and all cause mortality in women: a review of the evidence.” British Journal of Sports Medicine;36:162-172.
Alentorn-Geli, E., Samuelsson, K., Musahl, V., Green, C.L., Bhandari, M. and Karlsson, J., 2017. The association of recreational and competitive running with hip and knee osteoarthritis: a systematic review and meta-analysis. journal of orthopaedic & sports physical therapy, 47(6), pp.373-390.