Joint Health: The Best Ways to Protect Your Joints
If you’ve been running for a while, the chances are good that a well-meaning non-runner has expressed their concern about the “damage” that running is doing to your knees. And while research findings have thankfully proved this misconception to be just that, there are ways in which you can improve your joint health.
Here are a few expert tips to help you keep your knees and other joints in tip-top shape.
1. Maintain a healthy weight
According to Dr. Walter Bortz, a longevity expert at the Stanford University School of Medicine, being obese can wreak havoc on your joint health. Says Bortz: “When the compressive forces are right in amount and direction, then the molecules across a joint are stimulated. That’s a healthy joint. But when they’re torqued or overburdened with obesity, then the molecules start fraying and that leads to arthritis.”
So be sure to stay in a weight range that is healthy for your body type – your joints will thank you!
2. Don’t overtrain
In line with Dr. Bortz’s advice, Dr. David Martin from Georgia State University cautions that appropriate training also plays a key role in keeping the joints healthy. “Some people aren’t given perfect biomechanical systems so they don’t have as much room for error in training,” Martin says. So be smart in your training and always prioritize proper rest and recovery.
3. Pay attention to your training surfaces
Dirt trails and grass fields tend to be a lot more forgiving on the joints when compared to cement paths. So try to do most, or at least some, of your weekly runs on softer surfaces.
Also, pay attention to the degree of slant of the surfaces that you’re frequently running on. Ideally, you want to avoid doing the bulk of your training on surfaces that are severely slanted to one side.
4. Don’t overstride
Overstriding, i.e. giving long, outstretched steps while running, can contribute to impact-related injuries. So if you tend to overstride, try shortening your steps to achieve a running cadence (or leg turnover) of at least 160. (Running cadence is calculated by counting the number of times that your one foot strikes the ground per minute while running, and multiplying that by two.) For elite runners, an optimal running cadence is around 180.
5. Cross-train regularly
Incorporate regular cross-training sessions into your training schedule to give your body a break from the weight-bearing forces of running. Good options include cycling, swimming, deep water running and pilates.
6. Listen to your body, especially your joints
Never ignore the signs of potentially over-taxed joints. If your joints are painful and/or swollen, ease back on your training or take a few days of complete rest. If the discomfort persists, consult a suitably qualified expert.
7. Eat smart
Dr. James Rippe, the author of The Joint Health Prescription, says that people rarely get enough glucosamine through their natural diets. “What I’ve found in my more than forty years of practicing medicine and helping patients commit to fitness regimens, is that people do not get enough ingredients, like glucosamine, in their natural diets to help support joint health,” Rippe says. His recommendation? “By incorporating a balance of healthy food in our diet and taking daily supplements, such as Osteo Bi-Flex®, which provides nourishing ingredients like glucosamine and chondroitin, we are helping to strengthen and support our joints as they gradually deteriorate with age.”
8. Get the correct shoes for your foot type and replace as needed
Podiatrist, Dr. Amol Saxena, warns that runners with a family history of medial knee arthritis, as well as bow-legged runners, should avoid motion-control shoes. For these runners, this type of shoe may contribute to wearing out the medial knee joint. It is vital that you get fitted with a pair of good quality running shoes that are suited to your individual needs, preferably by an experienced specialist.
It is also important to promptly replace worn-out running shoes. As a general rule of thumb, running shoes should be replaced every 300 to 500 miles, so be sure to make a note of each pair’s date of purchase.
9. Walk barefoot around the house
Dr. Saxena also recommends that runners without any foot problems regularly walk around the house barefoot. Why? “This provides a stronger platform so your muscles can absorb shock and support your joints better. In cultures where people go barefoot, in general, there is less osteoarthritis,” Saxena explains. Remember that this is not a nudge into the world of barefoot running. Dr. Saxena is simply referring to occasionally ditching your shoes in and around the house.
10. Strength train
Regularly performing strength exercises can help keep the knees strong and stable, as well as prevent muscle imbalances. Runner’s knee, for example, is often caused by a patella (kneecap) tracking issue. By strengthening the quadriceps, this problem can, to a large extent, be prevented.
And don’t worry, you don’t need to spend hours in the gym, lifting heavy weights. Some frequent, light strength work that is executed correctly should be sufficient in helping prevent injury.
Don’t stop running!
So do what you can do to keep those joints healthy. But, whatever you do, don’t stop running!