According to a recent study published by researchers from University College London, long-distance running doesn’t harm knees — it can actually reinforce them. Led by Dr. Alister Hart, an orthopedic surgeon and former London marathoner (who was interested in how the running had affected his knees), the team of researchers took MRIs of the knees of 80 first-time marathoners, all of them middle-aged, six months before their marathon and two weeks after.
To keep matters consistent across the board, every participant stayed true to the same marathon training regimen, and they all ran the sam marathon (in London). When they finished, and returned to the lab a half-month later, the researchers assessed the pre- and post-scans simultaneously. Fascinatingly, injuries and imperfections that appeared before the marathon (cartilage strains, bone marrow lesions, tears here and there) largely shrunk after the marathon. While there were new issues to report for some runners, the consensus was clear: these middle-aged knees were healthier after logging a ton of miles.
This isn’t crazy groundbreaking for those who know their sports medicine. After all, a study from over a decade ago showed that elderly runners’ knees were healthier than those of young people who sat around all day. The scoffs of non-runners that running is a waste of time because it “wrecks your knees” are just that — scoffs of non-runners. Still, it’s a sign that humans can reverse the aging process on their most fragile joints, by strengthening the muscles directly around them. And that truth could have implications for those with already injured knees (nobody in this study went into the process with a serious injury).
Another factor to consider, of course, is modern technology. The running industry is more prepared for injury prevention today than ever before, with footwear, massage tools and artificial surfaces meant to limit the knees’ impact with the ground.
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