Knee pain and other knee-related injuries are among the most commonly reported injuries in recreational runners. However, while this may be true, running is not inherently bad for your knees. A physical therapist named Diane Lee stated it best when she said, “You can’t run to get fit. You need to be fit to run.” Running is a full-body, repetitive impact activity, and that means your whole body needs to be properly trained to run safely and effectively.
Knee pain is often the result of faulty running form or muscle imbalances that cause the knees to absorb more shock and deal with more impact. The best way to take care of your knees for running is to take care of them when you are not running. This means maintaining proper strength and flexibility in your spine, hips, and upper and lower legs.
Foam rolling and stretching are essential parts of recovery from your runs and should be done at least a few times a week. It is also a good idea to implement a yoga class or other gentle stretching routine to your rest days.
Proper core control is essential to maintaining pelvic stability and helping your body adequately absorb the impact of each step, which can be one-and-a-half to three times your body weight! Add front and side planks into your cross-training routines to maintain a strong, stable core.
Hip and glute strength are of utmost importance to a runner, too, and just running is not enough to keep them working the way they should. These muscles need to be trained via resistance training and in multiple ranges of motion.
A new study from the Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy has concluded that “Recreational runners had less chance of developing knee and hip arthritis compared to nonrunners/ sedentary individuals and competitive runners” (J Orthop Sports Phys Ther 2017;47(6):391. doi:10.2519/jospt.2017.0505). Overall, running is not naturally bad for your knees, but poor strength or faulty running mechanics can contribute to knee pain and injury risk.
Lauren Alix Riccardi, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS, is an advanced clinician at Hospital for Special Surgery. She has run two marathons and is currently training for this year’s Chicago Marathon and TCS New York City Marathon. Lauren enjoys helping runners become better at their sport through running analysis, training, and rehabilitation when needed. She is passionate about injury prevention in athletes, and specializes in treating orthopedic injuries. She received her doctorate in physical therapy from Springfield College in Massachusetts, and completed her Orthopedic Residency at HSS.