Is Running with Knee Arthritis Mission Impossible? All You Need To Know about Knee Arthritis and Running

Running is not an easy sport, it requires both physical and mental strength as well as strong motivation and persistence. Believe me; I know as running is my passion. It is even harder to dedicate yourself to this sport once the injuries start to kick in, I have felt that on my skin too.

I can thus imagine how painful it can be to run with knee arthritis and how big a desire one must have to overcome this condition and keep going. I have tried to gather all the information on this condition and learn how one can treat it and overcome it. So, is running with knee arthritis mission impossible? Read on and find out!


What is Knee Arthritis?

In order to understand what knee arthritis is, you must first learn what arthritis is so I will begin with that. Arthritis stands for inflamed joints, and every joint in our body can be affected by it. This disease is characterized by the pain in the affected area as well as swelling, and stiffness. The condition is most commonly located in the knees.

Adults are most affected, especially the elderly, but some forms have an impact on children too. It can make everyday activities difficult to accomplish and is therefore considered to be a serious disability. There is still no cure for arthritis, but numerous treatment options can ease the pain, slow down the process of degeneration and improve the lifestyle of people affected.

The Most Common Types of Arthritis


The Most Common Causes of Arthritis

  • genetic susceptibility
  • excess weight
  • injury
  • overuse
  • infections
  • autoimmune disorders
  • gout and metabolic problems

Interesting facts about arthritis:

  • Arthritis is the principal cause of disability in the USA.
  • One in five people over 18 in the USA suffers from arthritis.
  • Over 50% of people older than 65 in the USA have arthritis diagnosed.
  • Two-thirds of people with arthritis are younger than 65.
  • 300 000 children, including babies, in the USA, suffer from arthritis.
  • Arthritis is more common among the female population.

Knee Arthritis Defined

Since the knee is one of the most important joints in our body (both largest and strongest), the knee arthritis might be the most aggravating type of arthritis there is. It hinders our ability to walk, climb stairs, stand up, go to work, etc.

The knee is formed by three bones- thighbone, shinbone, and the patella or kneecap. These bones touch each other and are covered with and protected by a smooth and slippery substance called the articular cartilage. The cartilage serves to protect and cushion the bones as you bend and straighten your knee. It allows for the joints to move with ease

There are two pieces of this cartilage which stand between your thighbone and shinbone. They are called meniscus, and their role is to cushion the joint and absorb the shocks it undergoes. They are flexible but tough too.

There is also the synovial membrane that surrounds the knee joint and produces a lubricating liquid as to reduce friction.

Knee arthritis occurs when the cartilage is lost, and the synovial membrane becomes inflamed. It is usually a progressive disease.

Types of Knee Arthritis

  • Osteoarthritis-

Advances slowly but worsens over time. It mostly affects the people older than 50 years as it is a consequence of prolonged usage or abuse. The cartilage is worn out and rough, the protection space between bones slowly disappears, and they start to rub each other which causes pain and can lead to bone spurs.

  • Rheumatoid arthritis-

It is an autoimmune disease  meaning that our body attacks its own tissues. In this case, the cartilage and ligaments are affected as well as the synovial membrane. As a result, we feel pain and stiffness. It usually affects both knees.

  • Posttraumatic arthritis- 

       Occurs after we have suffered an injury to the knee, and can start even years after the incident.

Knee Dislocation

How to Recognize the Knee Arthritis? The Key Symptoms

  • Pain and inflammation of the knee joint (usually develop gradually)
  • Stiffness
  • Swelling
  • Inability to bend a knee
  • Difficulty to stand up after resting (sitting , sleeping)
  • Pain that worsens during intense activity
  • The knee “locks” during movement
  • Noise while the knee moves (such as click, creak or grinding sound)
  • Increased pain during rainy periods or early in the morning
  • Crepitus  - a grating sensation inside the joint when it moves

How to Diagnose the Knee Arthritis?

Go to your doctor and explain the symptoms. He will then conduct a physical examination that should include:

  • Search for swelling or redness in the knee area
  • Checking if the knee is tender to the touch
  • Asking you to move your leg or moving it for you
  • Checking if you feel pain when weight is placed on the knee
  • Examining the way you walk
  • Checking for any visible or hidden injuries in that area
  • Asking if the pain is felt in other joints in the body

If the doctor suspects that you suffer from arthritis he or she will order further diagnostics as to determine the current condition of the soft tissues and bones, these tests may include:

knee tendonitis exercises

knee tendonitis exercises

  1. Imaging tests
  • X-ray
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan
  1. Laboratory Blood Test
  • To determine the presence of rheumatoid factors which are the antibodies present in 70% to 90% of people who have rheumatoid arthritis.
  • To determine the erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR)  which shows the degree of inflammation in the body.

How to Treat Knee Arthritis? The Best Treatment options

  1. Non-surgical Treatment Options

a, Holistic and natural approach

  • Changing your lifestyle
  • Losing excess weight
  • Minimizing the aggravating activities (climbing, running..)
  • Improving the diet (include omega-3 foods, high-sulfur foods,bone broth, food rich in fiber…)
  • Staying active
  • Chiropractic care
  • Taking proteolytic enzymes
  • Consuming ginger
  • Consuming turmeric
  • Using Boswellia essential oil
  • Doing the knee stability exercises
  • Physical therapy
  • Using assistive devices (cane, shoe inserts, shock-absorbing shoes, knee sleeve)
  • Heat therapy
  • Ice therapy

b,Medical treatment

  • Using pain-relieving ointments
  • Wearing elastic bandages
  • Taking medications or prescribed drugs:
    • non-narcotic pain relievers (Acetaminophen)
    • anti-inflammatory medications (ibuprofen and naproxen)
    • Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs- DMARDs (methotrexate, sulfasalazine, and hydroxychloroquine)
    • biologic DMARDs  (etanercept (Embril) and adalimumab (Humiral))
  • Corticosteroid injections
  • Viscosupplementation Treatment
  • Dietary supplements Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate

c, Alternative medicine

  • Alternative acupuncture therapies
  • Magnetic pulse therapy
  1. Surgical Treatment

If the knee arthritis causes disability and too much pain, you might have to undergo surgery, especially if all the non-surgical options you try fail you. However, there are always risks and possible complications that can occur, and therefore it should really be your last resort.

physical therapy for sprained knee
  • Arthroscopy -recommended in cases when the degenerative meniscal tear is present.
  • Cartilage grafting - most commonly applied to young patients with small areas of cartilage damage.
  • Synovectomy- removing the damaged joint lining.
  • Osteotomy- applied when only one side of the knee joint is damaged as to shift the weight off of it and thus reduce the pain.
  • Total Knee Replacement/ Arthroplasty- removing the damaged cartilage or bone and replacing it with plastic or metal joint surfaces (prosthesis).

All the surgical treatment options call for recovery and rehabilitation. Besides physical therapy, you might also need to use crutches or a cane or wear a knee brace for some time.

My Opinion

Holistic medicine should always be your primary choice of treatment as it will treat you as a whole person, both your mind and body, not just the problem of the knee arthritis.

Medicaments can relieve pain and reduce inflammation but have numerous side-effects and poison your body. Most importantly, they will not resolve the problem but rather mask the symptoms and provide temporary relief.

Do not avoid physical activity but rather tone it down a bit and alter it to fit into your new lifestyle. Running is still a possibility if you do it the right way. I have some useful info on that matter as well, so do read on.

Running with Knee Arthritis

Quite contrary to the popular myth that declares the running as an unwanted activity for all those who suffer from knee arthritis, the Arthritis Foundation, in reality, recommends that people should keep on exercising. Running is not necessarily bad for your knees, but you do have to make some changes and adjust your activities to the knee arthritis you suffer from.

Although I recommend consulting your doctor before forming your training schedule, the adjustments you need to make will surely include:

  1. running on softer surfaces
  2. incorporating strength and flexibility exercises
  3. cross-training
  4. reducing mileage in accordance with the severity of your arthritis

How to Run with Knee Arthritis

  1. Prepare yourself well- stretch all of the leg muscles before you start running. The dynamic stretches will enable your muscles to absorb more shock and thus reduce the amount of shock the knee joints have to suffer.
  2. Choose the appropriate running surface- as I have already stated, when you suffer from knee arthritis running on softer surfaces is a must. Avoid concrete, asphalt and opt for dirt trails, grass or the synthetic tracks as that will help minimize the stress and shock your joints and muscles have to undergo. Watch where you stand though as soft terrains can sometimes be a bit bumpy!
  3. Incorporate strength training into your weekly exercise routine- Alternate running with strength training as strong muscles will support the joints better and absorb more shock. In this way, you will not feel stiffness in the joints that much. You have to do both isotonic and isometric exercises.
  4. Flexibility exercises are also a must- Flexibility exercises should include range-of-motion exercises and stretching and should be done every day as to relax the muscles and make them stronger. Look into Thai Chi or Yoga as both can help reduce the pain caused by knee arthritis.
  5. Cross train- when you feel pain in your joints, listen to your body and avoid intense activity such as running and rather opt for cycling, swimming, water running, etc. Changing the activity will help increase your mobility and allow you to rest from running while staying active at the same time. It also helps speed up the metabolism and maintain a healthy weight as well.
  6. End every training with the static stretching.

Additional tips for successful and pain-free running with knee arthritis:

  • Avoid running or any intense activity during flare up- if your joints feel hot make a pause and wait for them to calm down.
  • The pace is not important but rather your cadence and the number of steps you make in a minute. So, shorten your stride and increase your cadence if you want to keep running with the knee arthritis in years to come.
  • Reduce sugar intake as it increases the inflammation processes and thus worsens the pain.
  • Rest whenever you feel like it, listen to your body signals and respect what they are telling you. Recovery is essential for all the runners who suffer from arthritis.
  • Avoid stressful situations as stress increases the cortisol level in your body. Cortisol is a stress hormone which controls insulin levels and blood glucose levels too.  When cortisol levels are high, your body cannot recover from the running sessions, and the pain worsens.
  • The weight-bearing exercises are a good way to mix-up your running routine and strengthen the muscles. I recommend the squats or leaning on a ball against a wall with 15-pound weights in each hand.
  • Compression is a great way to stabilize the knee as the pressure will help in keeping everything in place. You can wear compression pants, but I recommend choosing the best knee sleeve for running.

Make Sure You Have the Best Shoes for Bad Knees

Finding the best walking shoes for bad knees is one of the most important things you have to do when you suffer from knee arthritis.  If you plan to run, appropriate running shoes are also a must! 

The best way to go is to have your running gait analyzed before you buy the footwear appropriate for running with the knee arthritis as to make sure that it will keep your knees well aligned during this activity.

Any shoes, no matter the price or quality, have to be replaced after 300 miles (400 miles is a maximum you should never cross!). After that, they are not able to absorb the shock well, and it will start to transfer to your knees and worsen your arthritis symptoms.

Will Running Worsen the Knee Arthritis?

There are supporting structures in your knee which stabilize it and absorb the shock it receives. In this way, the excess friction of the cartilage is minimized. These structures are:

  • tendons
  • muscles
  • ligaments

However, if these supporting structures are in bad condition as well, running can worsen arthritis, and the pain may increase.

If your body isn’t in proper alignment and your ankles and pelvis are misaligned than any activity can make your condition worse, including running or even walking. Misalignments may be a consequence of some previous injuries that caused limping. The alignment can be checked by an osteopath or chiropractor.

For the reasons stated, make sure that you know all the facts and are well aware of your body`s potentials before you decide to take up running with the knee arthritis.


You can see knee arthritis is not necessarily a terminal diagnosis for people who enjoy running. Some sacrifices are necessary though.

In time, arthritis and inflammation will surely get worse as this is a progressive disease, and you should respect that and maybe consider switching to another activity once it happens. Cycling or swimming are good alternatives to running once you feel too much pain in your knees. 

I, however, hope that that day will not arrive soon for any of you since I know how passionate one can be about running. Follow the tips I have provided, take a holistic approach, listen to your doctor, respect your recovery, work hard to strengthen your muscles, and I am sure you will run for many more years to come.

Bella Williams

Hi! I'm Bella. I love running. I write this blog to share everyone about running.

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