Minimising Impact on Joints from Running

Being concerned about running’s impact on joints is completely understandable. Whether you’ve experienced some niggles in your own knees or have heard from other runners about their ankle or foot injuries, it’s always smart to take care of yourself. So, is running bad for your knees and ankles – and how can you reduce running’s impact on joints?

Is running bad for your joints?

The good news is that research shows that, in and of itself, running is not bad for your joints. Indeed, there’s some evidence that running actually encourages healthier joints and bones, as you condition your body to be stronger. However, there are common ankle and knee injuries related to running which come up time and again.

So, why the discrepancy?

While some runners may be prone to joint problems due to genetics or past injuries, most joint issues are related less to running itself, and more to problems related to running form, surface and equipment.

How to reduce problematic running impact on joints

The force of running puts up to 2.5 times the weight of your body down through your legs and feet. This puts a lot of pressure on your body, and so, with the wrong equipment or form, you risk doing real damage to those joints. Fortunately, if you make some changes to how you run, you’ll reduce the risks of running on your joints.

Improve your form: One of the most common causes of joint injuries when running is poor form. If you’re hunched over or moving your feet in an unnatural way, you may put unnecessary strain on your joints. To counter this, it’s important to follow correct running form. Here’s what it looks like:

  • Getting the posture right for natural running: When you run, your arms and legs coordinate to control pace, stride and foot strike – so if you want to encourage a mid-foot strike, you need to change your posture. The best style for natural running is to carry your elbow at an angle of less than 90 degrees and swing your arms as close to your body as possible.
  • First contact with the ground With your torso upright, your foot should set flat on the ground and your knee should be only slightly bent, with the lower leg almost vertical below it.
  • Stand The knee of your standing leg should support your whole body, and your torso should remain upright as you stand.
  • Propulsion In the final phase, where your feet are on the ground, your standing leg should provide the propulsion. Extend your knee and hip rapidly to the maximum stride length and with a strong push from your calf muscles, your heel will leave the ground.
  • Swing This final phase is where the other leg comes into play – raise it parallel to the ground as it swings forward and this will make it easier to swing the rear leg forward.

Wear proper running shoes: The importance of wearing proper running shoes for the sport cannot be stressed enough. Running shoes are designed specifically with the right technologies, materials and sole layout to reduce the impact of running on your joints and keep your stable and safe. It’s also important to choose between road running and trail running shoes , as these will each use different features to match the needs of the respective sport.

Consider running on softer surfaces: If you’re worried about your joints, it’s definitely worth finding softer surfaces to run on – avoiding hard materials like tarmac or concrete is a must. Run on grass in a local park, find a wood chip path or try trail running.

Avoid rapid increases in training: While you may be training for an upcoming half marathon or a similar race, it’s important not to put your body through massive changes to your running routine too quickly – this can put undue stress on your whole body and irritate your joints. Instead, aim to gradually increase your mileage by no more than 10% per week to let your body adjust.

Consider cross training: Ideally, running should fit in as part of a wider fitness regime, which includes weights and low-impact sports like swimming, rowing or cycling. By incorporating these different activities into your fitness programme, you’ll give your knees and ankles a couple of days off from high-impact exercise each week.

Replace worn-out shoes: Another common cause of joint pain from running is wearing worn-out shoes. It’s generally recommended to change your running shoes after every 300 to 500 miles, since after this kind of distance, the wear and tear on your shoes will cause the support and cushioning features to gradually decrease.

While running, in and of itself, won’t damage your joints, it’s important to take precautions to ensure you’re running correctly to reduce any possible risk.