Does Running Actually Ruin Your Knees? from Does Running Actually Ruin Your Knees?

Does Running Actually Ruin Your Knees?

A major struggle for new runners is the anxiety of getting injured. This is many runners’ worst nightmare. There is a certain amount of fear with every new exercise regimen. Some of the worst possible injuries are a torn ACL, stress fractures, trouble walking, and knee problems.

Difficult to avoid injuries

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The concept of rest and cross training and icing down is a difficult one for a runner, but it’s crucial for healthy joints, says Dr. Michael Rieber, MD, FACS, FAAOS, Orthopedic Surgeon, Chief of the Joint Institute at Saint Barnabas Medical Center. “Runners need to run, it's almost a religion. When I tell one of my injured runners (runner's knee i.e. patella tendinitis or quad tendinitis) they need to rest, it's as if I was speaking some made-up language,” he adds. Trying to get a runner to ride a bike or use an elliptical machine in order to cross train is also near impossible, he adds.

Joints were made to move

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That is what keeps the cartilage at the ends of the bones healthy, Dr. Rieber says. “Moving and using the joint will keep the flow of joint fluid going, as well as the muscles around the joint strong and supportive, he adds.

Increase mileage gradually

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Runners need to listen to their bodies, Dr. Rieber says. “Because a friend can run 8 miles in 30 minutes doesn’t mean the next time out you have to.” Gradual increase in distance and speed with cross training will prolong a runner’s career, he adds. Warming up (jump rump, stationary bike) before going out and icing down after a good stretch at the end of a workout will also prolong their career, he adds.

Don’t work through the pain

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“To hurt a knee beyond repair would be in that runner who thinks working through the pain is in some way helpful,” Dr. Rieber says. Pain, no matter how mild and manageable, is a sign that something is not right. “If the IT band is on fire and you keep running through, there’s a good chance you will have difficulty walking the next day and will need meds and rehab for a while, “ Dr. Rieber says. The same is true for the other tendon issues like the patella and quads, he adds.

Jump training can be helpful

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Jump training is very physical, but, if done like anything else with proper form, it will give great strength and endurance, Dr. Rieber says. “If it can’t be done on padded surfaces then it should be done in moderation and sneakers need to be checked and changed as well,” he adds.

Avoid Cho-pat straps

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“I prefer people not to need patella or Cho-pad straps,” Dr. Rieber says. Flexibility, rest, icing down, appropriate distance, proper surfaces and sneaker choice should prevent the use of a crutch like the strap, he adds. “If, however, it’s getting close to race day and there’s some discomfort, and those miles have to be gotten in, then for some they are helpful.”

Don’t resume running like you did before

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“If a runner rests, the criteria to return to the field of play are being able to run, cut, burst without pain and limp,” Dr. Rieber says. “The runner should start slow and not return as if they never missed a day.” They are going to be in a weakened state than they were a few weeks earlier. It's time to ad calf, quad and hamstring exercises, but don't forget about the hip abductors and adductors and rotators as well, he adds. “Icing down after each run will prevent inflammation and decrease any pain.”

Go for a gait analysis

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Many runners have muscle imbalance. If the hip rotators, usually the external rotators, are weak, then the leg will turn in (internally rotate) and that can lead to problems with patella tracking, Dr. Rieber says. “Also, there need to be a balance in the hamstring and quad.” Strides will be altered if one is more powerful than the other and can lead to bigger problems, he adds. “Having someone watch and observe your stride length and how the extremity moves through the gait cycle will only lead to better form and mechanics and, hopefully, prevent injury.”

Runner’s knee

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“Runner’s knee can mean many different things,” Dr. Timothy Miller, Associate Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine at The Ohio State University, says. “It can be irritation or wear and tear behind the knee cap. The pain gets worse if you’re running uphill or up and down stairs. There may even be some swelling. You need to maintain strength in your quad muscle and keep it healthy, Dr. Miller adds. It contains the VMO muscles, which control the position of the knee cap while running.