Body Blog: Running is Good for Your Knees?!
When I conjure up the image of a serious runner, I envision a muscular man in inappropriately short shorts, wearing a work belt of water bottles, a knee brace, and slurping energy gel packs. I’ve seen this person too many times and although I classify myself as a runner, I doubt I’ll ever sport water bottles at my hips. I do, however, very much identify with needing knee support.
Too many times, my running activity is hindered by pain. After numerous doctor’s visits and trips to the physical therapist, I’ve learned that chondromalacia patella or “Runner’s Knee” is the cause. This is when your knee cap rubs against one side of the knee joint … ugh, I just cringe at the thought of it. As you can imagine, I’ve gotten accustomed to believing that running would and always will be a battle when it comes to the condition of my knees.
But I don’t want to stop running!
And according to a recent article in the New York Times, I might not have to.
So often we hear that running causes joint problems or arthritis, among many other injuries. Now new evidence suggests that running may actually shield against something like arthritis, in part because the knee develops a kind of motion groove. “You can run for miles, decades, a lifetime, without harming it. But if this exquisite balance is disturbed, usually by an injury, the loading mechanisms shift, the moving parts of the knee are no longer in their accustomed alignment and a ‘degenerative pathway’ seems to open. The cartilage, like an unbalanced tire, wears away. Pain, tissue disintegration and, eventually, arthritis can follow.”
Yeah, sounds painful. But that also means that there is a way to prevent injury to our knees and keep on runnin’.
Obviously, we must avoid injuring our knees in the first place. Duh. And we must also do whatever we can to correct those injuries so they don’t get worse. This begins with targeted strength training. “The hip stabilizers, quads, hamstrings, and core must all be strong enough. As soon as there is weakness, some other muscle or joint must take over, and that’s when injuries happen.” Here are some great strengthening exercises that will build up support for those knees and keep ‘em happy.
I’m delighted to hear that my favorite pastime (besides Project Runway marathons) does not have to end due to silly knee pain. I haven’t quite got that “motion groove” thing down yet, but when I do I’ll be able to run until I’m wrinkley and gray… at which point I may give in and strap on a water bottle utility belt.