Pain Relief For Arthritis Happy Valley & Sandy, OR

Don’t Walk Away From Running

Don’t Walk Away From Running Don’t Walk Away From RunningTis the Season to Be Running

It’s that time of the year again when people make promises to eat healthy, get in shape, and turn things around after one more day of festivities. That also means that you will see more people doing the world’s most common type of exercise: running. Historically, running has gotten a bad rap both in locker room lore and in the cardiac research. Yes, we have read the studies that show elevated troponin (a sign of muscle damage used to detect heart damage) in the blood of marathoners but troponin is also released by other muscles when damaged. Furthermore, it has been speculated that troponin is released under high stress of the heart, not just damage. Lastly, I think we can all agree that seeing these markers after running a marathon is drastically different than seeing them while sitting on the couch.

Don’t Walk Away From Running1 Don’t Walk Away From Running

Need more evidence that people think running is bad for them?

What we know is that there is an upper limit to running’s health benefit and the details matter. The proposed risks range from heart problems to giving you “bad knees” and even death. As a runner and health care provider I have to defend the sport regularly against the suggestion that I am “wearing my knees out” and “doing more harm than good.” Despite having a history of knee pain in high school and college with running I am certainly not wearing out my knees and am unquestionably not damaging my heart by running.

The Research

Firstly, the safe upper limit to running is actually quite a lot so TRY to keep it around 20 miles per week unless you have consulted with medical professional to ensure that you are healthy enough to undergo the stress and your technique is safe for your joints. Just to cover the obvious question, there are runners who safely run more than 100 miles per week and this is likely due to gradual adaptation to the activity and good mechanics. Good mechanics is a very broad term and is far too complicated to write in a blog post. If you have questions on what good mechanics means for you specifically, send us a message.

That being said there is overwhelming evidence that running reduces nearly all type of health risks, resulting in a 19% reduction in mortality over a 21 year study of middle aged and older runners! The concerns that running is bad for your heart comes largely from a German study that looked “chronic marathoners” blood values after running a marathon. Guess what, it showed that their heart was tired. While it is a good idea for medical researches to continue to look at these findings they do not mean that running a marathon is equivalent to having a minor heart attack, like we discussed above.

Secondly, the common assumption that running wears out your knees is not supported by the research, which actually showed a slower progression of difficulties with daily tasks in middle aged and older runners than sedentary people. In other words, running showed a protective effect for joints and overall health when compared to not exercising. This may seem to go against logic but it is important to remember that our bodies are living systems and have the ability to heal minor injuries given the right environment. This common misconception is usually due to our experience with other machines that because they can only become more worn out when they are used.

What the Research Means

I struggled with running and knee pain all through high school and college that seemed to show up every time I tried to increase my mileage or speed. Without having adequate tools to fix the real problem I took the best advice available to me and walked away (actually biked) from running for years. Fortunately we know more about running now and I can comfortably say that it does not wear out your knees and dramatically improves your overall health. A more dedicated approach to the technique of running has resolved my knee pain and even increased my performance with significantly less training.

To answer the question, “is running bad for my knees?” you have to realize that not all running is the same. Running can be hard on joints, and it can be bad for your health if you do it misuse your joints. After all, it is dangerous to cross the street if you don’t take the proper precautions. In short there is a technique to running and it shouldn’t be overlooked. The “how of running” is getting more attention, in part due to the barefoot/minimalist running craze and improved coaching methods. We have talked a bit about how shoes play a role in running and will do more in the future, but to keep it simple: start by paying attention to a few things as you get back to running this New Year. Running awareness will help make running something that doesn’t hurt.

  1. Start with a manageable distance and increase slowly over several weeks. While suggested increases vary, 10% increases in either time or distances is generally considered a safe starting place.
  2. It’s OK to change speeds, in fact shorter higher intensity portions of a run have been shown to increase health benefits and results from training. Also, a gentle warm up for 5-10 min helps get your heart and lungs ready for the rest of your workout.
  3. Get help before pain puts you on the bench. Technique is as critical to runners as it is to swimmers but is often overlooked by runners. Physical Therapists who specialize in running are uniquely skilled to identify and address problems before they cause injuries. Often these issues can be often be corrected in just a few visits and correcting technique early can save a runner years of knee pain.