Knee Pain while Running? Don’t blame Arthritis


Spring is officially here and it’s around this time that a lot of folks return to or begin a running program.

If you’re over the age of 40 – one of the most common questions I get is…

Is running bad for you knees? Does it cause arthritis?

The short answer is “No”!

If you experience knee pain when you run, it’s not that you’ve “aged out” of the sport, or because it’s causing arthritis in your knees.

This is a very common misconception about running. In fact, research supports that running may actually be GOOD for your knees – and running alone does not cause arthritis to develop.

Staying strong, active, and mobile is your best defense always against osteoarthritis. Therefore runners, because they are typically active and healthy individuals, often have healthier knees than their non-running counter-parts.

Ok then – so what really causes knee pain in runners, and what is actually responsible for debilitating arthritis to develop?

In most cases, it’s simply a bio-mechanical issue that goes unaddressed over time. But the GOOD news is that once identified – these issues can actually be fixed with proper education and strengthening (best offered by a movement specialist – like us!).

What’s important for you to remember is that arthritis is NORMAL – everyone gets it as they age.

What doesn’t have to be “normal” is for arthritis to stop you from running – or any other activity that you love for that matter.

Here are three of the most common factors we see that are often the true culprit of knee pain when you run – not arthritis:

1) Poor ankle mobility

Ankle mobility affects the way force hits your foot, which can impact your knee. If your ankle doesn’t move fully, freely, and adequately – excess forces will be shifted up to your knee. The knee may be forced to flex, and/or rotate, and/or tilt more than it needs to. This, in turn, may result in unwanted loads that the tissues of the knee can’t handle. A bio-mechanical and movement expert can not only help you identify if this is your true “knee problem” – but can also help you improve your ankle mobility in order to prevent long term damage to the joints, tendons, and ligaments of your knees. We actually see this as a very common problem in those that have sprained or twisted their ankles in the past. If that’s you – then this could be a reason why you’re suffering from knee pain while you run.

2) Weakness in your hips and thighs

There’s a widely perpetuated myth out there that runners don’t need to strength train. That’s simply not true! Adding strength training to your running regimen makes it way less likely that you’ll suffer an injury. When it comes to protecting your knees, developing good, balanced strength in your hips and thighs is critical. The hamstring and quadriceps muscles play a crucial role in stabilizing the patella, otherwise known as your kneecap. Since running is extremely repetitive on your joints, especially your knees, it requires they have good durability and endurance – something that is lost quickly when you neglect proper strength training. Often “wear and tear” in your knees – otherwise known as arthritis – will get blamed for your knee pain when in actuality, the loss of strength around your knees is what’s causing that wear and tear to feel worse than it needs to.

3) Unstable core

It may seem like running is all in the legs, but the stability of your pelvis and trunk have a huge influence on how your legs perform. You derive the majority of your power, speed, and stamina from your core muscles and glutes. Much like with ankle mobility, if your core is not performing adequately or efficiently – your legs will have to work harder. A stable core is key for developing and maintaining good balance and rhythm with any activity – but especially running. With a repetitive activity like running, efficiency and form is everything. Without a strong core, it’s impossible for your leg muscles and knee joints to work as efficiently as they were designed to, and it will be really difficult for you to maintain good and proper running form mile after mile. When your core strength is weak, and doesn’t have enough endurance to sustain the amount of miles you want to run, your knees will suffer.

When it comes to knee pain and running – arthritis almost always gets blamed. This often leads to unnecessary surgery to fix the “wear and tear” in your knee, or injections to decrease the inflammation. But if you don’t check and address any of the bio-mechanical issues I mentioned above, among others, these fixes will be temporary and your knee pain will keep coming back. And worse… could force you to stop running all together!

The take home point here is that running alone doesn’t cause arthritis in your knees, but it can make arthritis that is already there – and naturally occurring – WORSE if you don’t address some of these other important issues.

If you’re suffering from knee pain, and it’s starting to impact your ability to run or do any other activity that you love…

Talk to a specialist at our clinic for FREE by requesting a Free Discovery Session.

A Discovery Session is an opportunity for those looking for help to speak with a specialist at our clinic and find out 1) if you’re a good fit for what we do and 2) if we can help you.

We only have room for about 2-3 of these sessions per week – so please only request one if you’re serious about getting help 🙂

CLICK HERE to request a Discovery Session.

If you catch these issues ahead of time – arthritis is less likely to become problematic or debilitating.


Trupti Mehta, PT, MS, OCS

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