Skip links

4 surprising ways running is good for knees

The most common ways running can affect your knees

Common questions answered

Is running bad for your knees?

Running gets a bad press when it comes to joint pain, but isn’t actually bad for your knees. As running is a ‘high impact’ exercise, it can put pressure on your joints. This means running can sometimes show up underlying issues, causing pain.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. High impact exercise can be beneficial for fitness and bone health if your technique is good, and you don’t over-exercise or build up too quickly.

It’s when your running technique is poor, or you have an injury that isn’t fully healed somewhere in your body, that running can be bad for your knees.

Running poorly, or too much could result in further injury or cause general wear and tear.

Read on to find out how running can strengthen your knees

knee pain

Is running bad for arthritis?

Running doesn’t cause arthritis or make it worse. If you have arthritis, you might find that your knees get sore more quickly and take longer to recover after exercise. This is because arthritis affects the way your joints respond and adapt to exercise.

Don’t let this stop you! If you enjoy running, you shouldn’t stop because you think it will cause or worsen arthritis. In fact, it’s important to keep active if you have arthritis, because inactivity can cause more stiffness and discomfort.

If you have arthritis, it’s even more important to make sure that your running technique is good.It’s important not to over-exercise, and that you have a high quality running shoe with good shock absorption.

You could also consider switching it up, by alternating between running and lower impact exercises.

Can running actually strengthen your knees?

Running does put more weight on the knees than walking, but this can be beneficial. High impact exercise like running causes the joints and cartilage to ‘micro-injure’ which then generates a healing process after you exercise.

After it has recovered it is actually stronger than before. People who do no medium or high impact exercise are more likely to have weaker joints and muscles than people who do some higher impact activities.  

runner

How can you alleviate knee pain when running?

Running shouldn’t hurt if you’re doing it correctly and there are no underlying issues.

If you have pain during or after running, it’s important to make sure you have no underlying issues and check your running technique. A physiotherapist or podiatrist will be able to analyse your gait and running technique and help you correct any issues.

They may advise a change of footwear, the use of orthotics (a special insert for your shoe), hands on treatment, running technique improvements, and changes to your exercise routine.

Once you’re confident that there are no underlying issues, if you get the occasional flare up during a run, it’s best to switch to a lower impact jog or fast walk.

You can also try applying ice, taking an anti-inflammatory pain killer when you get home, and giving yourself a couple of days’ break before your next run.

If your knee continues to be painful, don’t run on it again, and seek advice.

How can you strengthen and protect your knees?

veg

Exercises that strengthen your knee should be combined with exercises that strengthen your whole leg – from ankle to hip.

Although it’s tempting to focus mainly on your ‘problem’ area when you exercise, this can cause further issues because your strength and movement become unbalanced.

By ensuring your ankles, calves, hamstrings, and glutes are strong, this means that your knee isn’t absorbing all the stress and compensating for issues elsewhere.

It’s also important to eat a balanced diet that’s high in protein, vegetables and complex carbs. A diet low in ultra-processed foods, will give your joints and muscles the fuel they need to repair.

Have a high protein meal or shake soon after you run and make sure you drink plenty of water- your joints need lubrication too and can soon become dehydrated.

What stretches should you do before running to protect your joints?

stretch

It’s important to warm up your muscles before you break into a run and some gentle stretches can be part of this. Keep in mind not to over-stretch ‘cold’ muscles.

Before running, rather than doing any deep or long stretches, try to focus more on mobilising your joints. Starting with your ankles, then your knees and up to your hips, you can gently rotate or turn your joints in and out to get them moving and ‘loosened’ up.

When you finish your run, it’s a good idea to warm down gradually rather than come to a sudden halt and do some slightly longer and deeper stretches while your muscles are still warm.

Calf, hamstring, and hip stretches are all beneficial, but don’t forget to stretch out your upper body too.

As with many things in life, it’s all about balance for a healthy overall posture and running technique.

By David Brown, Occupational Therapist and Movement specialist

Join the Discussion

Return to top of page