6 February, 2018

How to take care of the joints when running

The general perception, among runners and non-runners, is that knee pain is one of the most common in the world of running. Is this really the case? Are the knee and other joints the weak point of runners?

Most common sports injuries in runners: knees and ankles

This is confirmed in a study undertaken in the Allan McGavin Sports Medicine Centre (AMSMC) (*), in the Canadian University of British Columbia: the sports injuries most common among runners are the knee (42.1% of the total injuries), followed by the ankle (16.9%), the shin (12.8%) and the hip (10.9%).

There is no doubt that the legs are the most important part of the body for running and, in particular, we must know how to take care of the joints when running: knees and ankles are the parts most sensitive to suffering the effect of negative vibrations produced with each stride. Overloads may cause pain and even more serious injuries.

But running in itself is not the problem (on the contrary, running is beneficial to our health), what we must correct is how we run. To do this, below we give you some tips to take into account to take care of the joints when running: what you should take into account before, during and after the exercise.

10 tips for taking care of the joints when running

Does your knee hurt after running? Have you had any serious injury while running? Or, on the contrary, do you feel invincible because your body responds to all the efforts to which you subject it?

Independently of the medical record of each person, we should all endeavour not to overload the joints, muscles and tendons. With each footstep our body receives the vibrations of an impact that increases with more speed and force, and this is why it is particularly important to learn how to take care of the joints when running.

1) Plan your training sensibly and do not forget to warm up

Are you new to running? Are you starting up exercise again after some holidays? Remember that the majority of pains and injuries are often caused by an overstrain: we want to do a lot in a short time. So that our body adapts it is important to increase the distance and intensity of the training gradually.

At the same time, before exercising, we should warm up progressively. Professional athletes understand this clearly and the warm-up forms part of their routine. It should also be the same for all runners, irrespective of the miles they run.

As well as increasing the intensity of the exercise gradually, it is necessary to stretch muscles and ligaments, and thus prepare them for the exercise and pressure they are going to experience after.

Taking care of the ankles when running: a couple of exercises

This involves doing a few very simple exercises before each run, but with which you will protect your ankles:

  1. With the feet in the air, draw circles, first in one direction and then the other.
  2. Move the feet up and down, trying to reach to the maximum in each movement.

Repeat 10 times with each foot.

Taking care of the knees when running: a couple of exercises

There are many exercises you can do before training, and by way of example we show you a couple of simple ones to protect your knees:

  1. Double the knee back and maintain the balance on the other leg, slightly bent. Repeat 10 times and then change foot.
  2. Lean against a wall of stable surface and “sit” until your knees make a right angle of 90º. In this position, raise a leg until it is perpendicular to the body and maintain this position for 10-15 seconds. Return to the initial position, with the feet on the ground, and do the exercise with the other leg. Repeat 3-4 times with each leg.


2) Improve the footstep technique

We have many reasons to want to perfect our sporting technique. It will help us both improve our performance and take care of the joints when running.
Beyond referring to a professional to help with this, here we give you a few general guidelines to reduce the impact of the foot on the surface and thus minimise the effect on our body, and particularly on the joints:

  • Try to ensure the distance of your stride is not too long.
  • Land with the front part of the foot, avoiding banging the heel.
  • On runing, don’t raise your knees too much, and you will avoid the leg that supports you receiving all the weight of the body.
  • Keep the knees slightly bent with the feet always facing the direction you are going in.

To sum up, when you go running, try to mentally repeat “knees down, heels up” and this way you will be taking care of your joints.

3) Alternate the training surface

Asphalt is a hard surface, which increases the impact of the footstep and the possible joint overloads and pain. We recommend varying the surfaces we run on, alternating hard and soft (such as grass).

Those who do trail running should pay special attention to taking care of their joints, since the gradients and obstacles such as rocks and branches increase the probability of brusque movements and overloads.

4) Use footwear and insoles for running

Using suitable sports shoes will undoubtedly minimise the possibility of suffering injuries when running. On the one hand, you must feel secure, with a good level of purchase to avoid the foot and ankle moving to and fro while running. The running insoles with viscoelastic materials can help dissipate the negative vibrations the foot (body) receives in each footstep.

5) Strengthen the muscles to take care of the joints

Strengthening the muscles with specific exercises helps us both improve performance and takes care of the joints when running. The muscles are what contribute to stabilising the joints and absorbing the impact received during the race.
We must exercise all the muscles so that there are no imbalances, especially in the area of the knee (quadriceps and ischiotibial muscles) and the hip.

Additionally, regenerative discontinuous load exercises (such as cycling or elliptical trainer) stimulate the recovery of the cartilage. It is advisable to integrate them into your weekly training. They have benefits regarding taking care of the joints when running and allow you to continue increasing your aerobic capacity.

6) Alternate sports and respect the rests

As we have said, combining running with sports of less impact will avoid us saturating the same area too much. It is also important to include the rest periods necessary in our training schedule so that the body will have time to recover and be ready for the next effort.

7) Don’t forget to stretch after exercise either

If you have little time, run a few minutes less but never, ever, skip your stretching at the end of the training. To avoid knee injuries, it is particularly important to stretch the quadriceps correctly.

8) Don’t lower the guard

It is important to learn how to take care of the joints when running and also when we are not doing exercise. For example, remember that it is important to sit correctly and get up every hour, hour and a half, to walk and change position.

9) Suitable diet and weight

A varied and balanced diet influences in how we take care of the joints. On the one hand, we must ensure we get all the nutrients necessary (especially antioxidants) and good hydration. On the other hand, following a healthy diet will help us maintain a suitable weight, which will avoid our joints suffering too much on doing exercise (it is easy to imagine that each kilo we add to the scales increase the pressure on our kneecaps, ankles or hips).

10) Listen to your body… and your doctor

We must differentiate between pain and tiredness and, never, ever, train with pain, although maybe at first it may seem just a “slight” bother. Forcing our body can cause a more complicated injury, which will increase the rest and recovery time.

Although analgesics may be a good ally to alleviate pain, we recommend taking them under the supervision of a doctor. If we feel pain in the joints when running (or any part of the body), the best option is to see a professional. Don’t forget that our legs do not have replacements!

(*) Reference to the quoted studies:
-A retrospective case-control analysis of 2002 running injuries (2002), British Journal of Sports Medicine: http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/36/2/95.long