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We live in a world with gravity. This means as we move, our load bearing joints are compressed and frictional forces applied to the joint surface, and just like a car’s brake discs when we continue to use them in this fashion they will eventually undergo erosion. (a.k.a. arthritis)
Unlike brake discs though articular cartilage is a live tissue, requiring food and nutrients to stay optimally healthy. As the blood supply within cartilage is not great, joint surface nutrition occurs by gentle compression and release of the cartilage layer (movement).
And that is the dichotomy….we need movement to create an optimally healthy environment for the cartilage….too much though and we risk erosion. So how are we supposed to know what to do? Run? not run?
In my opinion the best option is to look at things from a number of avenues…Firstly make sure you are a healthy weight. Knee joint loading is exactly proportional to how heavy you are…if you stay in control of your body weight and strive to keep a healthy BMI you will minimise the excessive force through the knee. Eating well also maintains optimal internal health to help recover from the microtrauma stress and strain of running.
Secondly… learn your craft. Running is not a simple activity, it requires a great deal of muscular coordination and effort. Poor technique will increase the loading at the knee and can accelerate degeneration. Get your running assessed and perform corrective exercise to get the most out of your body.
and lastly…be sensible…thrashing yourself doesn’t allow time for tissue recovery. If you are looking at increasing your fitness…do this in a number of ways rather than just relying on one discipline. If you are training for a specific event ramp up slowly and listen to your body. Look at your family tree…if arthritis has been an issue in the family be cautious about embarking on an intensive running program.
We need to move to maintain joint health, run smart and enjoy longevity…be a candle not a firework!