Put Those Shoes On: Running Won't Kill Your Knees Contrary to popular belief, running isn't damaging to your knees. In fact, a light running regimen may actually strengthen healthy knees. But researchers say if you've just had knee surgery or if you're overweight, don't suddenly jump right into an intensive running program.

Put Those Shoes On: Running Won't Kill Your Knees

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.


Today in "Your Health," a technique that might ease the pain in your back. First, let's hear about something that might not be causing the pain in your knees - jogging. It's a cliché among runners that eventually, jogging breaks down the knee joint. Researchers say that's not true. NPR's Patti Neighmond explains why.


PATTI NEIGHMOND: Paul Rider loves to run on Mulholland Drive in Hollywood.

WERTHEIMER: Fantastic view. Had a lot of rain, so you can see the whole San Fernando Valley. It's beautiful. It's a great place to run.

NEIGHMOND: Rider doesn't just run for exercise.

WERTHEIMER: It's a nice emotional release. Quite a nice stress release.

NEIGHMOND: Rider runs a seven- to eight-minute mile. His wife, Lyra, runs a little slower, but pretty much for the same reasons.

WERTHEIMER: I do enjoy running. I like getting out. It always feels great when you've done it.

NEIGHMOND: Lyra and Paul Rider are in their mid-40s, about the age when health experts used to say...

WERTHEIMER: That if you jogged and jogged and ran and ran, that you'd be doing in your knees.

NEIGHMOND: Dr. David Felson, at Boston University School of Medicine, says the concern was degeneration of the knee, and arthritis. But when researchers actually studied the impact of running on knees, that's not what they found.

WERTHEIMER: When we look at people with knee arthritis, we don't find much of a previous history of running. And when we look at runners and follow them over time, we don't find that their risk of developing osteoarthritis is increased anymore than would be expected.

NEIGHMOND: In one study, researchers from Sweden found it may be even beneficial. They looked at exercise, including running, to see what happened to cartilage - that gooey substance which connects bones and muscle. Dr. Felson.

WERTHEIMER: And they found that the biochemistry, which was abnormal at the beginning, actually improved a little bit in those who were running, suggesting that running was healthy to the joint.

NEIGHMOND: It could be the impact of the body weight, when the foot hits the ground, stimulates production of certain proteins in the cartilage, which make it stronger in the same way exercise like running makes bones and muscles stronger. And cartilage health may turn out to be really important.

WERTHEIMER: We are now starting to understand that there is some loss of cartilage annually.

NEIGHMOND: Dr. Nancy Lane is a rheumatologist at the University of California. She did some of the first studies of runners and knee arthritis.

WERTHEIMER: If you have a relatively normal knee, and you're jogging five to six times a week at a moderate pace, then there's every reason to believe that your joints will remain healthy.

NEIGHMOND: And if you're more than 20 pounds overweight, Lane says don't start suddenly running. All that extra weight can cause real damage - inflammation, bony spurs, and cartilage thinning.

WERTHEIMER: If somebody is heavy and they want to start exercising, I don't have them go off running. I have them walk and walk until they're to a point where I think that their body mass is reduced enough that it won't traumatize their joints.

NEIGHMOND: Patti Neighmond, NPR News.

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