Have you ever wondered if it was safe to continue running as you age into your 40’s? Or maybe you are already in your 40’s and wanting to start a running program. If you are wondering if running is safe as you age, this article is for you!
Let’s start straight away with the important answer – YES! It can certainly be safe to run in your 40’s. But you may be concerned about how running can affect your body. Including your low back, hips, knees, and ankles.
One common myth is that your knees break down as we age which makes running a bad choice. Let’s break this common myth down a little bit. First, the knee joint (actually ALL our joints!) are lined with cartilage. This cartilage acts as a shock absorber, transferring force from the foot up to the hip. It is literally like the shocks in your car which absorb force before transmitting it from the tires into your car.
Now, the shocks on your car do actually wear out over time. But, your body has this magical ability to heal itself. Yes, every tissue in your body was created to heal itself when it is provided with the correct amount of stress and strain. Too much stress/strain and you have break down. Not enough stress/strain and you don’t build up the tissue.
The proper amount of stress and strain on any tissue in your body will allow the tissue to heal and regenerate. This actually makes it stronger that it was before.
So, the answer to this question is: YES! It IS safe to run into your 40’s, 50’s, and beyond. This is even supported by the research. This article shows that moderate intensity running actually increased the thickness of the cartilage.
Just like anything else, you can over do it with running. The article further demonstrated that long distance running overwhelmed the bodies capacity for healing. This led to damage of the cartilage in those who regularly ran longer distances and didn’t give their bodies enough time to heal.
How can you figure out if you are running the right amount for your body?
A simple rule to follow – wait until the pain and soreness has worn off. If you go for a run and it takes 48 hours for the soreness to wear off then give your body that time to heal and recover before running again. You will find as you build up your “running tolerance” you don’t have to wait so long in between runs.
What if the pain and soreness never seem to wear off?
Well, then you need to get in and have a Running Specialist evaluate what is going on with your body. During this assessment we will not only look at your running form but also assess any issues in how your feet, knees, and hips are moving. As well as any strength deficits we find along the way. This will give you the confidence to continue running without pain or dysfunction for years to come.
Need some more ideas to get you motivated to hit the road?
Make sure you have shoes that are good for your feet. Many people ask me about brands and types of shoes specifically for them. And, I understand because there are so many choices out there! Without seeing your feet and knowing what your personal goals are I can’t make a specific recommendation. But, if you would like to come in and discuss your shoe options, we do offer a completely Free Discovery Visit. This will give us a chance to look at your feet, your shoes, and discuss some options for you. Simply click here to sign up for one of our No Obligation Discovery Visits today.
You can also do this quick test at home to get an idea of what type of shoe is best for you. Simply walk on a hard floor with your shoes off. Notice if the arch of your foot stays caved or seems to flatten out. If your foot stays caved then you have a stable foot. You will benefit from a cushion or neutral shoe. If your foot flattens out then you will need a stabilizing shoes to help support your foot while you are running.
These are very general guidelines and I highly recommend coming in for a Free Discovery Visit or going to a local running store for a custom fitting.
Also, pay attention to your running surface. Concrete, think sidewalks, is very hard and increases the compression through your joints. Also, sidewalks have driveways which are not level surfaces and change the force going through your hips. Whenever possible run on dirt or gravel trails. This decreases the force through your joints.
If you are running on the asphalt on the side of the road, make sure you switch which foot is “in the gutter”. Often people run either with traffic or against traffic and remain on the same side for their entire run. Because roads are cambered to allow for the rain to run off this puts abnormal force through your hips. This abnormal force can add up over time and cause hip pain and dysfunction in the long run. (see what I did there?)
Speaking of hips – ensure that you have the proper hip strength for the distance you want to run. Whenever possible I have my patients run a normal distance before they come in for their evaluation. This way I can assess their hip strength after they have run. This strength may be different then what we would find before the run.
So why is it that some folks stop running when they get older?
After age 40, the number one reason I see people avoid activities they want to do is because of pain. The second most common reason is because they were told to.
Let’s start with pain.
Having been a physical therapist for twenty years, I know a thing or two about what goes through people’s minds when they are dealing with joint pain. In most cases, the pain itself is not the biggest concern. People are willing and able to tolerate a certain amount of pain at the expense of doing what they truly love. We do it all the time in our 20’s or 30’s… and don’t think twice about it.
But as we age – a little bit of fear starts to set in when we’re in pain.
We’ve typically seen or heard horror stories from friends or family who have paid the price for either pushing through – or ignoring pain all together. When we’re younger, we’re more likely to approach pain with a “wait and see” approach. But as we age – pain becomes a bigger concern and we’re more likely to seek professional medical help sooner.
This leads me to the second reason people over 40 will stop running -
Because they were told to. And often by a well-meaning health care professional.
Let me explain that.
Our medical system is overloaded, and everyone does the best they can to keep up. But if you’re a musculoskeletal health professional who’s NOT up with current medical research – you’re likely to give advice based on “old-school” ways of thinking.
For example, diagnosing all musculoskeletal pain based on X-rays and MRI’s… If your X-ray shows “bone on bone” arthritis – then a joint replacement is assumed to be your only option. If your MRI shows a meniscus tear or bulging disc – then you automatically need arthroscopic surgery.
But the current research disputes this line of thinking.
And says 80% of ALL musculoskeletal problems – even when you’re over 40 – can be solved without surgeries or other procedures.
How your pain behaves is what matters most. Not your age or arthritis. The best way to explain this concept is with a case study!
This client (we’ll call him “Jim”) is 57 years old and was told knee replacement surgery was his only option to resolve the knee pain he was suddenly experiencing.
When he questioned the knee replacement and asked if he could wait, his doctor’s response was that because of his age – and because of the “bone on bone” arthritis that was showing on his X-ray – surgery was his best option. Otherwise, if he wanted to wait, he would need to stop the running and hiking he had been enjoying so much until very recently.
Research studies show that the indication of osteoarthritis on X-ray alone does not mean it’s the cause of your pain.
In other words, it’s entirely possible Jim’s knee pain could be due to something other than his “bone on bone” arthritis.
Did he really need surgery? And did he really need to stop some of his exercises because of arthritis or his age?
Ceasing his activities would have certainly made Jim’s arthritis worse. And if he went through with the knee replacement without being completely sure if arthritis was the main cause of his knee pain – he not only risks unnecessary surgery – but also risks getting set back several months for recovery.
This would delay his ability to get back to running and hiking even further.
Although age is most of the time NOT a factor in your choice of exercise… it is a factor when it comes to how quickly you’re able to recover from surgery.
So here’s what happened.
We prescribed him a corrective movement strategy to see if arthritis was the main factor causing his knee pain. And just like we see over and over again – his knee pain significantly improved after just a few visits!
Research says that if pain responds quickly to a corrective movement done repeatedly – your pain is primarily due to a mechanical origin – and not arthritis. Arthritis doesn’t change that quickly – in fact it doesn’t change at all (unless you get surgery). But mechanical pain does.
Turns out that Jim’s knee pain was due to some mechanical imbalances in his knee joint, and NOT the arthritis. Arthritis was a factor for sure – it made his knee stiff – but it was not the main cause of his knee pain.
If you’re getting older… know that age related changes like arthritis are quite normal and nothing to be afraid of.
And arthritis, along with your age, are certainly not reasons to avoid exercise.
Jim was given medical advice to have a surgery he does NOT need yet based solely on his X-ray and his age. But there are SO many other factors worth considering as well.
If you want more information on this topic then we encourage you to download our free guide. This will get you started with ideas you can implement TODAY to help with your knee pain.
Now, if you are ready to talk to a Running Specialist specifically about your issues, then we recommend you sign up for a Free Discovery Visit. This visit is perfect for you if you are wondering what makes us different. Or maybe you have been let down by another provider and are wondering if we can really help you.
During this 20 minute consultation, we will listen to and hear your story. This helps us to learn what you are looking for and how we can best help you. There is No Obligation to continue on with us after this Free Consultation. So, what do you have to lose? Contact us today to sign up for a Free Discovery Visit.