Running may actually help your knees! It seems the counter to keeping joints healthy — pounding the pavement repetitively. It must cause wear and tear, right? Well, turns out there’s no more excuses! 

Mary Colleen Roberts has been running since 1980. 

“Your body can do so much for you if you just ask it and if you take care of it,” she said. “For me it’s about seven miles when the endorphins kick in and it’s just so enjoyable.” 

The 63-year-old’s even crossed a few marathon finish lines, most recently in New York City on an unseasonably warm day.

“My knees did not give me a problem at all during the race. That was not a problem, the problem was the heat,” she said.

Her worst injury was a calf strain. She did have meniscus in her right knee repaired, but not because of all the miles she’s logged, instead it was for bowling.

Orthopedic surgeon Dr Brian Cole fixes a lot of knees.

“I think intuitively or conceptually people would say running must be bad,” he said. Increasing load to our lower extremities, our hips knees feet and ankles, must be bad because of the pounding. But truth be told the literature has not born that out.” 

Instead, some studies argue the activity may provide a protective benefit by strengthening the muscles around the knee joint and ultimately bulking up the cartilage.

“The prevalence of osteoarthritis is about 3-4 percent in runners where it’s 10 percent in all comers,” Cole said.

There are variables when it comes to risk for cartilage damage. Hours of exposure, genetic predisposition, alignment, history of previous injury and occupational workload all factor in. But for most of us, load-bearing exercise is highly beneficial when it comes to reducing obesity and boosting cardiac, respiratory, cognitive and bone health.

“The one caveat is that a symptomatic individual, someone who has pain, achiness, load discomfort or swelling, may see an uptick in their symptoms when they increase their loads,” Cole said. “But that is not the same thing as saying they are causing more damage to their joints and that is very important because many, many people are running with arthritis and they don’t even know they have it.”

For Roberts, it may be good genetics that have kept her going all these years. Her 71-year-old brother has completed 66 marathons. But her running buddies are holding strong, as well.

“The people I run with and have been running with for the last 24 years, they are my age,” she said. “I really don’t want to quit doing this.” 

She may not have to, even if she does develop osteoarthritis down the road.

“The primary question people ask is, ‘Now that I know I have arthritis, if I engage in running and high impact activity, will I make that arthritis worse?’” Cole said. “The take home is there is no evidence suggesting that is the case. When I look at the benefits of running, the most popular cardiovascular exercise, I would argue the benefits far outweigh the risks.”

“I’m just going to keep running until I can’t anymore, and I think that won’t happen I think I’ll always be able to run,” Roberts said. 

Elite runners do appear to have a higher prevalence of osteoarthritis on X-Ray findings, but many do not develop symptoms.