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Is Running Bad for Your Knees?

A common question that we get asked in our physical therapy office is, “Is running bad for your knees?”  It is usually our clients who are getting a little bit older but want to continue to run into their 50’s and 60’s.

The short answer is no.  Running is not bad for your knees.  Research shows that running, in fact, maybe GOOD for your knees.

If you have pain when you run, it could be due to a muscular imbalance or faulty running form.  The good news is that these types of issues can be resolved with a specialized physical therapy program.  Your physical therapist should be able to identify the areas that need to be developed in regard to mobility, movement, and strength.

There are 4 common factors that can contribute to knee pain when running.  They include:

  1. Poor Ankle Mobility
  2. Hip/Thigh Weakness
  3. Core weakness
  4. Poor Running Technique

Ankle mobility affects your step and stride and when you run.  If you don’t have enough ankle mobility, your knee may become overly stressed.  According to Trail Runner Magazine, “if your ankle can’t move adequately, then excess forces are shifted up to the knee. The knee may be forced to flex, and/or rotate, and/or tilt more than it should. This may result in loads that the tissues of the knee can’t handle.”  A physical therapist can help you improve ankle mobility in order to prevent long-term wear and tear to the joints, tendons, and ligaments of your knees.  This might be especially important for you if you’ve ever had an ankle injury in the past.

Many runners don’t have a strength training routine to supplement their running programs.  This is a mistake.  Adding strength training to a running regimen reduces the risk of injury.  When it comes to protecting your knees, developing strong lower body muscles is crucial.  The hamstring and quadriceps groups play a crucial role in stabilizing the knee.  The repetitive nature of running requires strength from all joints involved.  Without a strength training program in place, your body will be more prone to injury.

It may seem like running is all in the legs, but in reality, movement starts at the core.  Power, speed, and stamina are dependent on the core muscles.  If they are weak, all joints will suffer.  This is especially true on the knee joints. A stable core is key for maintaining a solid foundation. It also keeps your weight distributed between your legs and prevents undue stress from resting on your knees.  Our favorite ways to improve core strength are with targeted exercises like the Russian plank, prone hollow, and hollow-body body hold. In addition, you should incorporate trunk bracing with free weight training (e.g. squats, deadlifts, lunges).   If you are a runner but think you could benefit from a stronger core (let’s be honest, we all could), consider giving it a try.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a marathon runner or an occasional jogger.  Running technique is important.  How you run determines where and how the impact of every step is distributed throughout your body.  If your mechanics are compromised (e.g. you’re slamming on your heels, hunched in your posture, or whipping out your feet), you’re more likely to suffer from knee pain or develop wear and tear injury.  It makes sense to work with a movement specialist to analyze your form and help you be more efficient when you run.

If you have good form and a balanced training regimen in place, running can be good for you at any age.  According to an article published by Outside Online, “animal models show that exercise promotes cartilage thickening and protects its stretchy properties… instead of wearing down your bearings, running may grease them. That’s key because cartilage thinning and the loss of elasticity are both prominent causes of osteoarthritis.”

A specialized physical therapy program should enable pain-free running.  However, ignoring the pain and continuing to run with poor mechanics can cause you to develop a more serious knee condition.  If you have knee pain when running, the physical therapists at Movement Solutions would be glad to help you.

Ask about our cost and availability or call us at (864) 558-7376. We look forward to hearing your story and discussing how you can overcome your knee pain so you can enjoy running again.

Physical Therapist Dr. Tim Varghese

Dr. Tim Varghese

Movement Solutions

"We Help Active Adults, Ages 40-60+ Overcome Pain And Injuries And Get Back To Their Favorite Activities Without Unnecessary Medications, Injections, Or Surgeries."