Running- bad for the knees?

When I told my GP that I had started the C25K program, he warned me that running was very bad for the knees and that I should consider something less harmful like swimming. I am on W2R2 at the moment and do not intend to stop, but because of what he said, I have a nagging little voice inside my head that keeps telling me my knees will be shot by the time I'm 40 (I'm only 28 at the mo). Is what he said true? Any advice/ thoughts?


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38 Replies

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  • Blimey, a GP discouraging you from running? Gosh! I'm not expert but I would say that as long as you take it easy and listen to Laura on the podcasts, keep your rest days inbetween and invest in a good pair of shoes (and socks I LOVE my running socks) you should be all right. Maybe next time you go to the GP you should print off the plan and show it to him. Maybe he missunderstood and is worried about you trying to do 5k too soon?

  • Running socks? Wow I'll have to look into that!

    I actually told him what the plan was all about, but he still seemed to think it wasn't the best thing to do! I'm going to go ahead nevertheless because I am starting to enjoy it! Onward and upward!

  • I too love my running socks!, my friend bought them for me for my birthday, and now I can't run without them!!

  • Yes there are downsides to running but it has benefits that swimming doesn't have - it's free, you can do it pretty much anywhere and it is weight bearing (AFAIK swimming won't do anything to reduce your risk of osteoporosis, running will) I've been quite wary of joint damage - seen too many sporty types not much older than me having to have bits replaced (after a period of hobbling about and necking analgesics of course) So I try to stay away from road running and I am scrupulous about having non-running days. Of course lots of merits in swimming *and* running.

  • There are pros and cons to all vigorous exercise so it's usually a case of choosing what suits you and don't rely too heavily just one. Mix running days with cycling and swimming etc so that your exercise is not all weight-bearing. I know lots of women who have been running for 40+ years and who take glucosamine supplements to help protect joints and avoid road running, as GoogleMe says. I'm 61 and use a treadmill or run in the park after rain, when the ground is soft. If you intend to carry on running long-term there's lots of advice on how to protect joints. Happy running :)

  • I read that if you are more than 20 percent overweight ie with a BMI of 26 or over then running could be a problem for knees (Run for Life by Sam Murphy). However, My BMI is 28.8 :-( and I started running to loose this weight. I am about to start Week 5 tomorrow and I have so far had no problems with my knees. I think it is because the running is interspersed with walking and I run reaaally slooowly. Also, as others have said, make sure you have your rest days and try to run on softer surfaces like grass. Can't vouch for the running socks, though, I may have to invest in a pair ;-). Listen to your body and take things real slow.

  • Forgot to add, make sure you have a decent pair of trainer. Perhaps go to a running shop and have your running style checked. I used to run a few years ago and my knees did start to hurt but when I brought some new trainers the pain completely disappeared.

  • I was 43 bmi when i started c25k, i am now 31.. Maybe i should stop!

  • If you are willing to keep your body mass as close to the ideal healthy range , and you wear the correct footwear, and pay attention to your food requirements over time your whole body should be in a lot better shape than somebody who just swims once a week.

    I am not sure what swimming and ingesting small amounts of chlorine would do for you over a long period of time either.Just don't crank it up until you are really confident you will not injure yourself. Rome and all that.

  • Interested to read the replies to this one because my parents have warned me repeatedly about my knees, they're convinced I will harm them over time. I do run on pavements which isn't ideal (no choice where I live), but my BMI is low so that will hopefully ease the pressure. As others have said its a case of weighing up the pros and cons, it's something I'm aware of and at the first sign of trouble I'll stop, but life is full of risks & it's a statistical fact most people don't do enough exercise which will have the worst effects on health.

    Incidentally I'm on W8 and so far I have not had any aches and pains at all with this programme, aside from tight calf muscles while running at one point, not even one single stitch - I think it's pretty well designed for us novices. I'm surprised at this GP's attitude, this is after all an NHS plan.

  • Hi epld,

    I too am 28 and am on week 4 of C25K. I had knee problems in my teens (rough cartilidge or something which caused a lot of pain) but this resolved itself. I had further knee problems when I was 24 and was referred to a physiotherapist. Something to do with my kneecaps pointing out instead of pointing straight which again caused knee pain. I went to the physio for radiation and exercises to help strenghthen the muscles round my kneecaps. I haven't had a problem since, and that was over 4 years ago. Running does not hurt my knees at all, whereas if I have a night out dancing in high heels I can feel a bit of a twinge the next day. I imagine if I ran marathons on a frequent basis, things might be different, but 5k 3 times a week is fine.

    Obviously I can only speak for myself and as I don't know your particular health condition, I can't say you'll be fine. But from someone who knows what sore knees are like, I can only say that exercise has probably helped rather than hindered me enormously.

    As much as your GP is trained to provide advice, I think a lot has to be said for treating patients as "experts" in their own ability and pain levels. You're on week 2 and feeling fine so listen to your body, and just be sensible with the plan. As others have commented, it is designed by the NHS and I can't imagine them endorsing something which is harmful!

    Good luck :)

  • I have problems with my knees, but since starting c25k (and wearing knee supprots whenever I run) I have not had any problems. I 'run' very slowly so my running is low impact, which is essential for me as I also suffer from back problems. I think your doc must have had visions of you sprinting along hard surfaces at high speed, which would be pretty hard on the knees. But if you take it slowly and listen to your body then it must do you more good than harm. I certainly wouldn't do this if it made my knees any worse than they already are. In the long-term, running and losing weight will be much better for my knees than staying on the couch and overweight. :)

  • Yes I totally agree Legion! I am the same- I run quite slowly. I will look into knee supports though. Thanks!

  • Thank you all for the advice! The problem is, I am overweight, hence my knees might be under strain, but not feeling it at the moment. I will keep at it but pay close attention to any pains I may get. I am planning to start swimming soon as well... so I will have to see how I get on. Thanks for the advice!

  • I am in week 3 and the knee pain I experienced before when walking is almost gone now with my slow pace of running. I just comment to my husband last night that it seemed like my knee was feeling better with this program.

  • Thanks gdeann, that was encouraging :)

  • I can definitely vouch for running socks!

    I fugure you have to die of something right? So you might as well enjoy what you do along the way. Might get hit by a bus tomorrow.

    I am not entirely convinced that running 'per se' is that bad for your knees or anything else if you are sensible about it, I doubt any of us are going to be Seb Coes or Paula Radcliffes and our running volume is relatively low compared to those guys.

    I read an interview with Dean Karnazes a while ago, he runs a bit (look him up if you don't know the name) and apprently he has perfect knees.

    If you have a problem with your knees any way I can see running being an exacerbating factor but if you are starting from a point where they are A'OK then whatever, they are joints right? Made for moving? Just not too much too quickly, keep good form, build it up etc etc!

  • That's a great way of looking at it :) thank you!!!

  • When I went to see the doctor 7 weeks a go or so with my knees (it was muscular not the joints and stretching keeps it in check, thanks to one of Greg_M blogs) and he mentioned, cross training, swimming etc as lower impact and tried to talk me out of running, but i heard your knees are fine.

    I've decided it is more important that I take up fitness that I will do rather than something I don't like and may only do for 4 weeks, and I do love running!

    From a health point of view which is better; running, or sitting on my couch for the next twenty years, putting on more weight. I've decided on balance this is the best course of action for me at the present time, hopefully my BMI will come down from 29 over time.

    If I start to get knee problems, then that may change my course of action after balancing the pros and cons.

  • Totally agree! If and when a problem arises I can then think about a solution, but till then like you said, I don't want to vegetate on the sofa putting on more weight!

  • I love this reply - it is better to do an exercise you enjoy and will stick with than to try and give up on "safer" exercise that you don't find enjoyable.

    I also think that, as long as you are sensible and listen to your body, using and strenghtening the muscles around your knees can only help to support and protect the joint itself.

  • This is my question of the day, too. I've had a history of knee problems, especially my right knee, on and off for 20 years. I've had PT twice: once for an IT band-related problem, and the second time about 4 years ago, when I was diagnosed with chondromalacia in my right knee. So I was apprehensive about doing C25K. My orthopedic doctor's office said it should be fine; they only say high-impact exercise is contraindicated when you have meniscal tears, which I don't have. (Or at least didn't.)

    So I'm on week 8 now, and now that I'm doing the longer runs (25-28 minutes), I'm definitely feeling it. My knees are tending to be stiff much of the time (feeling swollen internally, though they don't look swollen externally that I can tell). By "much of the time," I mean pretty much for the two days after a run now. And though there's no sharp pain, there is soreness. I don't know how much of this is normal for my age (late 40s), or am I doing myself some harm? I don't want to quit the program, but I just can't seem to judge whether it's bad for my knees or this is an acceptable kind of discomfort.

    I guess, if I'm going by what you concluded, epld, I would look at stopping or modifying the program if I had a problem, but I don't seem to be able to recognize whether what I'm experiencing now is normal.

  • Oh, p.s., I'm kind of overweight. Have no idea what I weigh or what my BMI is, but I'd say that, at the least, I'm on the heavier side of average. I would be surprised if my BMI were under 28. So maybe it is too much for my knees....

  • If you are feeling discomfort up the rest or reduce the volume - each body is different so let it have longer to adjust.

  • Hi Lu25k, and well done for week 8, I hope I get that far! If you're having prolonged pain in or around a joint I would say that's not normal. If I were you I'd rest for a couple of days and then try a 20 minute run and see how that feels. Maybe your knees need a more long drawn out programme. I'm going quite slowly because of my back and so far it's working but I'm only week 4 so earlyish days... good luck!

  • Hi, Mitts! Thanks for your answer. It's better today, but my knee does still feel weird. What's confusing me is that I wouldn't really call it pain; I've had knee pain in the past, and this is more like diffuse, mild soreness....

    I think it's great that you're going slowly. I repeated a couple of weeks earlier in the program and made sure to take plenty of rest days, and I think that's the way to go if you've got any kind of concern about injury. I also got good shoes and had my gait checked out at a running store early on, and to my surprise, there was nothing unusual about it. Perfectly normal. So I think I took every precaution I could have, and I wish I didn't have this worry.

    Good luck with your program! The weeks go by quickly. Just remember you're building strength and endurance, so if every week is harder, that's as it should be. And it's so great to have Laura along to tell you you're doing well. :)

  • Very interesting discussion. I had to stop on wk3r2 for 10 days as had sore knees. They seem completely better now, so I have started again by doing a wk1 run, 2 days later a wk 2 and today and wk3 and all is well so far- fingers crossed.

    Can anyone recommend your favourite running socks- I didn't know there was such aching. Presumably they offer some kind of support?


  • I have bought Saucony running socks and am happy with them. They are made of a fabric that keeps your feet mostly cool and dry--more so than cotton blends. I don't think it's for support, though they are nice and springy around the insteps and have a little cushioning in other areas.

  • I've got several different pairs of running socks (no 'big' brands), but my favourite socks to run in are actually 'cycling socks' I bought from Lidl. They have a support band around the middle of the foot and I find it really good. Unfortunately, Lidl's socks seem to be different every time the running/cycling kit comes around, but if I ever see these particular ones again I will buy loads!

  • PS. They are a cotton mix, not the specialist fabric sort. I have some running socks like that (which specify which foot they are for!) but they don't seem to wick away the mositure any better than thick cotton socks and I don't like the fabric, it's 'catchy'.

  • I don't think any of them offer support - a bit of extra padding perhaps - what they do is wick the moisture away and are fitted. Different left and right sock to avoid excess sloppy bits which can give you blisters.

    Imagine the comparison - big soggy cotton or toweling socks all bunched up compared to close fitting technical fabric socks that wick away moisture

  • I laughed when I saw the L & R printed on the socks , I had a pair of wellies like that when I was 5, next day I noticed I had actually put them on the wrong feet! I haven't had blisters since I started wearing them so I would recommend them over normal socks every time.

  • Legion what was the mix by the way - how much wicking will also depend on the design and material of the shoe and how much mesh allows air to circulate. The temperature. humidity and your own level of exertion will all make a difference too!

  • Hi everyone, interesting discussion. Lu25K your knee pain sounds similar to mine. I have just started week 7 and don't want to stop. My right knee has diffuse mild discomfort while I run, it doesn't hang around much. It was more uncomfortable after week 4 so I stopped running for a week, went on a hiking holiday and picked it back up at week 5 when I came back. So far my knees have been OK since then but I am worried that I'm doing them some permanent harm by continuing with the program. But the trouble is that I find this the only fitness program I have ever enjoyed and been motivated by!

    My mum ran on roads in the 50s, and ended up with cartilege removals, arthritis, knee replacements etc. I really don't want to end up with the same problems, so I run off road and make sure I'm wearing really good shoes. I'm just crossing my fingers that is enough.

  • I am 58 years old and had always hated sport till now. I am on Week 5 despite a knee op. in 1983 - I have a titanuim thing in my right leg as I "lost" my rotula in the crash. Obviously since then the cartilage has re-formed. And 3 pregnancies later and aerobics and skiing - here I am running and so far so good. I hate to disagree with your doctor but surely sitting is worse than running? Good shoes are essential. Maybe a gait analysis? Good luck!

  • I've started running in a different style, more a barefoot style which is less jarring to the body. I've not had any problems with my legs or joints apart from tight calves a while ago which are fine now - I'm in my 50s but I've lost a lot of weight and am quite slim now which helps. But vis-a-vis the GP, I've a few GP friends who run and two of them do triathlons and run many miles with no problems. Also, no-one has mentioned (unless I missed it!) the benefits of weight-bearing exercise for women to stave off osteoporosis; running is very good for that. I would definitely recommend having a look into the barefoot running style for anyone who has problems with knees or legs.

  • in my late 30s I was diagnosed with arthritis in one of my knees so I was a bit worried about running. When I saw my (very overweight) GP at the time he seemed to think ice skating & badminton might not be very sensible & I wasn't even thinking about running then. Earlier this year (now aged 42) I decided to try C25K. I'm pretty unfit but my BMI is within the healthy range- I think running has acually helped as I've had much less discomfort since starting the programme & I wonder if strengthing my leg muscles has taken some of the strain off my knees. High heels, kneeling & bending at the knee a lot definitely cause more pain than running! The wet weather has meant I am running on pavements a lot more though & I do think this might be a problem long term (my off road routes are just too muddy at the moment


  • I first complained about painful (sore) knees back in my mid-teens, and my GP at the time dismissed it. I think he thought I was trying to avoid PE (which was partly true 'cos I hated it) as I'm built for comfort, not for speed and would happily run a 1500m but asking me to sprint was like asking if I could paint the Sistine Chapel. At 21 I finally saw a specialist who said I needed a patella release on both knees as the back of my kneecaps looks like the Alps. I saw the x-rays which proved it. He told me exercise was fine, as long as it was low impact to try and prevent problems in future, and I had one arthroscopy done at the age of 25. 26 years later it is that knee that causes problems.rather than the one that hasn't been done.

    I took up running 6 months ago thanks to C25K after years of doing nothing, and despite my medical history my GP is pleased that I'm doing it because of the mental boost it gives me as well as the general health benefits. I do get sore knees periodically because my bodies response to impact is to protect my tendons by producing additional fluid so it makes my knees stiff. Gait analysis means I've got shoes to suit my running style and I tend to run in neutral or barefoot shoes which have helped my joints no end. My advice would be to get running shoes to suit your style (the specialist shops are happy to help), and to listen to your body - if you feel stiff or sore, take an extra rest day and cross train. Do some core work. Yoga. Don't tempt long term injury by ignoring it and trying to run through it because it will set you back longer. Your body will thank you for it and you'll enjoy your running far more.

    Happy running!! x

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