Is running healthy for our joints?

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Sport and physical exercise in general are beneficial to health according to WHO. However, there are some nuances that need to be taken into account so that what should be a health-beneficial activity does not become harmful. Running is usually a very healthy activity, but it is both demanding for joints and the untrained cardiovascular system. It is also an intense activity that requires good hydration if practiced in hot environments.

What benefits can I expect if I start running?

The benefits we can expect from the race are multiple: improved mood, cardiovascular and respiratory resistance, metabolism, especially for problems with cholesterol and sugar, and improvement of the locomotor system.

And for my bones, muscles and joints?

The moment we subject our body to workloads, either with weights, autoloads or stroke-jumps bone and muscle mass increase. In addition, the cartilage also becomes thicker in response to the load. In contrast, sedentary lifestyle will cause an atrophy of all these tissues.

As we run, our bones, muscles and cartilage become stronger.

In fact, this is the situation seen in astronauts subjected to long periods of anti-gravity. Therefore, bones, muscles and cartilage need to be stimulated with overloads in order to maintain their balance between production and degradation of the proteins and molecules in general that make up them.

Is running a healthy activity for everyone?

When we run ultimately what we are doing are small jumps and every time we support the foot after each of these jumps, the general ground a reaction force on our body. Therefore, when running the joints suffer considerable overload. That’s why we should do a progressive workout for our joints if our body is not used to running. Running is an a priori activity beneficial for our joints, but if we are overweight or obese it is preferable to first start by losing weight with diet and non-impact exercises with pool, bike, elliptical or gentle weights. Once we have lost weight and gained muscle mass, running will be a healthier activity for our joints.

In case of overweight or obesity, better to start with impactless activities (pool, bike, elliptical, soft weights) and start running by normalizing weight and gaining muscle mass.

In addition, in any situation where we have a poor or unentrained muscle mass in the lower extremities, it is always advisable to start with leg bodybuilding first without making excessive impact. This is because the muscle dampens energy produced with the impact of the stroke or jumps and therefore, with good musculature the cartilage clearly suffers less.

In what situations would you not recommend starting by running as a main activity?

I would not start with the race as primary physical activity in elderly cases with significant leg atrophy due to sedentary or lack of training, overweight or obese, a history of especially cartilage injuries in load joints (ankles, knees or hips), leg alignment problems (i.e., legs are not straight but curved) or in cases of people who already have high loads in their work (construction workers or who lift weights or run/jump frequently).

I’m overweight or obese, but I can’t lose weight because my joints hurt, what do I do?

You can’t start the house on the roof. Usually the joints hurt by being overweight or obese. The most important thing first is to start losing weight because this will surely improve the pain and with it the muscle will also have free rein to grow (pain inhibits muscle). To do this it is best to put yourself in the hands of a dietitian specialist for weight loss. Physical exercise is generally recommended to be added to the diet as it is more effective and healthy. However, the stroke is not the most appropriate initial activity because it involves high loads for the joints, especially if you have not yet gained weight. Therefore, the most appropriate progression is once the diet starts, low-impact physical activities such as swimming, cycling, elliptical and gentle weights are added. As you lose weight and increase your muscle mass, you can gradually introduce your career. Usually, we will never start for more than 10-15 minutes a day of running once the weight and muscle is improved, and always progressing gradually.

Can there be a relationship between the amount or intensity of the race and the risk of osteoarthritis?

The most important risk factors for osteoarthritis are age, genetic aspects, overweight and obesity, previous joint injuries, work activity with high loads or long-practiced impact sports at a high level.

Both sedentary lifestyle and high-level intense sport practiced over many years can cause osteoarthritis.

Ideally, stay away from the extremes, i.e. either being sedentary or engaging in too intense physical activity (as the race or jumps would involve) for a long period of time.

What type of footwear and on what surface would it be best to run?

This is an important question. The more cushioning is achieved with extrinsic elements (shoes and contact surface) and intrinsic (muscles), the less impact the cartilage will receive. Therefore, it is advisable to have a suitable sports footwear, in general bambas with air chamber or gel (and to be able to be double) and make the race on softer surfaces such as grass or soil. Running on the beach is correct as long as the beach is completely flat.

In what cases would you recommend a walking or treading study?

Probably a proper study of the tread is recommended in any person who intends to start the career in order to become their main physical activity. This would be especially important in case of podological background (templates), leg misalignments or previous gait or running problems. Proper gait/footprint study is likely to identify potentially pathological parameters if not corrected.

Dr. Eduard Alentorn Geli

Specialist in Orthopedic Surgery and Traumatology.

Knee, Shoulder, Elbow and Sports Traumatology Surgery.

Cugat Institute, Hospital Quirónsalud Barcelona. Catalan Mutuality of Footballers, Spanish Football Federation. Garcia Cugat Foundation.


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