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December 5, 2020

Gotta’ Run: Knees less likely to give out from activity

In 2013, I had arthroscopic surgery on a knee, significant because at the time I was nearing 80,000 running miles. And plenty more with other sports and farm work. I wish I had that proverbial dollar for every time someone told me I would wear out my knees if I kept running. I’m currently well over 91,000 miles into my quest for 100,000, and there’s some great research that backs staying active.

My reason for the surgery was loose cartilage that for some reason began floating around and causing the knee to stiffen. Dr. Robert Humble did my surgery and I don’t know which of us wanted to see the photos of the inside my knee more. We found a very healthy knee with no damage and limited arthritis.

Evidence suggests that running doesn’t hurt the knee and probably is even helpful. Cartilage is the rubbery material that is the shock absorber between the knee bones. Knee osteoarthritis is the most common joint problem in the U.S. with at least 10% of the population affected. And one of my physical therapist friends has told me for years that sedentary people with knee issues far outnumber the active ones.

Bioengineering researcher Bahaa Seedhom said in 2006 that cartilage could actually respond to outside stresses from regular daily activities. He also suggested that sedentary people needed that stress to avoid a higher rate of osteoarthritis.

Then University of California researcher Keith Barr said that cartilage does have self-repair abilities that can be triggered by the right combination of exercise and diet.

Finally, Maryland biomechanist Ross Miller said that knee cartilage does get stronger the more that its used. In fact, studies suggest that the body adapts to running with thicker and springier cartilage and thicker bone that spreads the workload of running over a wider area.

I also often hear that by elevating my heart rate for extended periods of time when running nearly every day will only result in using up my allotted heart beats. I tend to believe that I won’t use up those beats or my joints either by exercising. My goal is a stronger heart and joints.

Runners do develop osteoarthritis but at a lower rate than non-runners and most longtime runners have generally healthy knees. For many years, the normal plan for knee issues was to get off them and do non-weight bearing exercises. Many runners have been sent to the swimming pool or the bike in hopes of recovery from a persistent issue, but these studies suggest that running doesn’t seem to accelerate the progression of cartilage and arthritis issues. More research measuring the success of continued running as symptoms permit might finally get to the bottom of these forever subjects of discussion.

For me, I’m still hitting the road and chasing that 100,000-mile goal. The next day, I will start my quest for the next 100,000.

Thanksgiving Thursday is time for the always popular Butterball 5K. This year, the race is at the Salisbury Community Park on Hurley School Road and starts at 8:30 a.m. Coronavirus rules apply and there will be plenty of opportunity for runners and walkers to social distance while enjoying the course though the beautiful park. Also, plenty of parking and bathrooms are a bonus for this year’s race location. Proceeds again will benefit Prevent Child Abuse Rowan. Race director Rayna Gardner said, “Get your race workout and celebrate the rest of the day! We have the park to ourselves!”

More info is available at www.salisburyrowanrunners.org and runsignup.com.

Also, the Salisbury Post faith writers and me have all collaborated on a new Christmas book, An EnouragingU Christmas. Check it out at www.encouragingu.com or feel free to email me at david.freeze@ctc.net to get a copy. It is also on sale at Father and Son Produce on Sherrills Ford Road.

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