Is running bad for your joints?

Did anyone watch the Biggest Loser marathon Tuesday night? The doctor pulled a few hurting contestants toward the end to avoid further “injuring joints.”  That was obviously the right thing to do (I was wincing for them!) but it also fuels the general consensus that running a marathon can damage your joints.  I’ve been told this by well-meaning family and friends, but is there any truth in it? Here are two articles that have helped me form a response.

The NY Times posted an article in 2009 called, “Physical Ed: Can Running Actually Help Your Knees?”   It discussed one study that followed marathon runners before and after a marathon, and scanned their knees again ten years later. Here’s what they found:

“The results were striking. “No major new internal damage in the knee joints of marathon runners was found after a 10-year interval,” the researchers reported. Only one of the participants had a knee that was truly a mess, and he’d quit running before the marathon …. His exam prompted the researchers to wonder whether he would have been better off persisting as a runner, because, as they speculate, “continuous exercise is protective, rather than destructive” to knees. [Emphasis mine.]

In order to avoid injuries, the author wrote:

“…one of the best deterrents against a first (or subsequent) knee injury is 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.”  You can read the full story here.

Another article, titled “Can you wear out your joints?” writes:

Clearly, running stresses the weight-bearing joints. In fact, up to 5 to 7 times your weight is supported by your knees while jogging. Although the research is mixed, long-term runners are not clearly more likely to wear out their weight-bearing joints than people who are sedentary.

For example, a large study of runners published in 1998 found that over a nine-year period, members of a running club ages 50 and older had no higher incidence of OA than an otherwise similar group of non-runners. A more recent study came to a similar conclusion. Runners averaging 3.5 miles of roadwork each day had 25% less musculoskeletal pain than those averaging just 2 miles each week.” [Emphasis mine.]

Here’s the summary:  Yes, running is a high-impact sport in which the body takes a lot of pounding.  However, running does not appear to damage joints.  In fact, it can actually be beneficial to your bone health and joints IF you’re smart about your training, incorporate weight training, and allow your body to adapt to each new level of stress.

Back to the Biggest Loser Marathon…I believe a marathon can be done pain-free, when the appropriate training is completed. But is five months enough time to prep a sedentary body for that kind of stress?  My personal conclusion is that the contestants have trained too quickly for the marathon and are battling over-use injuries, (which, by the way, can occur in any sport.)

Do you run into this assumption? How do you respond? What are your thoughts on the BL marathon?

21 thoughts on “Is running bad for your joints?

  1. when I started running, my mommom kept telling me I was going to wreck my joints and body, but it seems like it is just the same as anything else and all of the benefits make it superior.

  2. I deal with people telling me all the time running is bad for your joints. I recently threw out my back pretty badly a few days after I ran a 5k race and my husband and mother were all over me saying its because I am running.

  3. This is great info, thanks for posting! It does get a little tiring hearing people talk about how “bad” running is for you when that’s definitely not the case. I agree with Natalie that it’s “just the same as anything else”…it makes perfect sense that if it’s done incorrectly that you’ll get injured. Like everything else.

    Thanks so much for stopping by my blog, btw! It’s been a hectic few weeks so I’m back at it again. I tried commenting back to you but am having some trouble commenting in the blog right now 🙂

    Really enjoyed your post!

  4. I hear this all the time – and now that I’m injured for the first time in forever, I’m hearing it more…”running just isn’t that good for you”. I know it’s well intentioned, but it’s also very uninformed and frankly, annoying.

    The BL marathon is one of my favorite parts of the season, but I also cringe because they clearly aren’t marathon trained. Ada rocked it a few seasons ago, but everyone else just makes me uneasy.

    • Yes- I have mixed feelings about it. I love that it gives contestants such a powerful feeling of accomplishment and pride, but I’m not sure it’s always the smartest thing for their bodies.

  5. I have always had knee issues prior to running and once I got in a groove the issues went away. I ended up doing something to one knee and its causing me so much trouble but honestly I think it was from bad form and that is my fault! I think when I was running right, my knees felt great!

    I am going to add this post to my saturday runners rambles!

  6. Thanks for your comment about my knee pain, how fitting that you just wrote this post. I also watched BL and loved it. I totally felt the same way, they weren’t ready for a marathon. It’s not like they trained during that five months for a marathon either. Maybe I’m wrong, but you can do lots of working out, but that doesn’t always get you ready to run 26.2 miles. Especially in such a short time. I also think they had prior injuries/damage. It looked painful to say the least. Not only that, the scenery was the desert for the whole run, and no music??? Tough! Jess

  7. Found your blog thru the blog hop! Thanks so much for posting this. I’ve had several people ask me if I was worried about running wearing out my knees faster. It’s nice to read studies that support what I thought to be true.

  8. I linked to you through the blog hop! I had thoughts of a similar post for my blog – I didn’t watch the show, but when I heard about the “biggest loser marathon” I immediately said, “Wait… what?!?” I’ve never ran a marathon (yet), and so I felt like I wasn’t an authority on the subject like it sounds like you are. 🙂 BUT It concerned me. The marathon is a distance to be respected from what I’ve read/seen and I don’t want just anyone thinking that they can just go “rock it out” on a marathon with little to no running/walking training. Anyway, I’m getting off my soap box. 😉

    • Thanks for your comment! I am no authority on the subject either! But I had a lot of the same concerns you mentioned. And I’ve had a few injuries along the way that have prompted lots of reading on that topic!

  9. I often hear the assumption that if I keep running I will automatically have bad knees. Not true! You just have to be smart about it. Even after you explain that they’re not convinced.

    Thanks for linking up this week!

  10. THANK YOU!!!! I have been trying to quote these stats to my family and husband for years and I have yet to convince them! I am going to refer them directly here and to your links from now on!! Thanks for doing the research and putting it all out here so I don’t have to 🙂

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