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Think Exercise is Bad for Your Knees? Think Again!

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Over the years, I've gotten some interesting comments when family or friends find out I'm a runner. "Be careful- that stuff is terrible for your knees!" or "Why would you want to do that kind of damage to your joints?" are some of the most memorable. While I laugh a little on the inside, I politely explain to them that exercise is good for your joints, and running is no more likely to cause knee problems than anything else, since I'm healthy and have had no knee issues in the past. People are usually surprised at that response. Now I have new research to back up my claims that exercise is, in fact, good for your knees.

The American College of Sports Medicine has released a new report that examines the effects of exercise on the knee joint. Previous research has looked at the impact of physical activity on the knee as a whole, but this is the first study to look at its effect on individual parts of the knee. The research found that exercise affects each part of the knee differently, which might explain why previous studies have produced conflicting results.

The report looked at data from 28 previous studies which involved almost 10,000 participants. These previous studies all looked at the relationship between osteoarthritis of the knee and physical activity. "According to the team’s findings, while exercise was linked to osteophytes, or bony spurs, there were no detrimental changes to joint space, the place where cartilage is housed. There were beneficial effects on cartilage integrity, with evidence of greater volumes and fewer defects." This means that exercise actually helped improve the cartilage in between joints instead of breaking it down.

Osteoarthritis is caused by the breakdown and eventual loss of the cartilage of one or more joints- in this case, the knees. It can cause joint pain, stiffness, swelling and other problems that limit mobility. Interested in learning more about this condition and how exercise can help? Check out our Osteoarthritis Condition Center for more information.

What do you think? If you're someone who has knee problems, have you found that exercise helps?

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PATRICIAAK 7/18/2020
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I had knee injuries & PT exercise helped but eventually OA caught up. Since my partial replacement surgery I can walk comfortably even for a bit on hard surfaces but since my ankles pronate, I must be careful about shoes & orthotics. Women have wider hips so if our thigh muscles are not evenly balanced (inner & outer) we are prone to knee problems. That's why swimming helps. It doesn't just take weight off the joints, it helps work both sets of thigh muscles evenly; plus it strengthens the abdomen & back. I would be thrilled if I could kneel comfortably & get up & down off the floor like when I was younger. Squats & stairs might be good workouts for my repaired knee but I would like to not overdo the other one which has only OA & this article & the study doesn't address that to my satisfaction. Report
I had knee injuries & PT exercise helped but eventually OA caught up. Since my partisl replacement surgery I can walk comfortably even for a bit on hard surfaces but since my ankles pronate, I must be careful about shoes & orthotics. Women have wider hios do if our thigh muscles are not evenly balanced (inner & outer) we are prone to knee problems. That's why swimming helps. It doesn't just take weight off the joints, it helps work both sets of thigh muscles evenly; plus it strengthens the abdomen & back. I would be thrilled if I could kneel comfortably & get up & down off the floor like when I was younger. Squats & stairs might be good workouts for my repaired knee but I would like to not overdo the other one which has only OA & this article & the study doesn't address that to my satisfaction. Report
very useful thank you Report
Great - thanks Report
Riding a bike will strengthen the knees too. That is what I did before getting a total knee replacement and because of it, my knee healed fast. Report
I've had 3 knee surgeries and have no cartiledge left and am bone on bone so exercise hurts but you can almost always find alternatives. Instead of the traditional stair step machine, I Nustep - it's a stair step option but sitting down. You still get the excellent workout and it's not as hard on the knees. Report
Running got to my shins but although I had weak knees for years it didn't get to my knees (I stopped for the time being because of a shin injury). I can do squats without an issue these days. I'm guessing most of my knee issue was just not being active and so not having the supportive tissue I needed because I never injured as a kid, just when I started sitting more and moving less. Report
I had arthroscopic knee surgery over 10 yrs ago,because of pain and crunchiness in knee joint. I have been exercising over 15 yrs now. I still get pain at times especially when stooping or kneeling but it does not prevent me from doing the things I love to do. If it gets too bad,then I ice it and take an antiinflammatory medication. I was told that the stepper was not a good machine to use if you have bad knees, but I still do at times.
I am supposed to get the other knee done,but I decided not to, as I really do not think it made much difference. I do believe exercise is the key !.
I have always had bad knees. I have bad cartilage to begin with and then dislocated my knee cap twice as a teen. I was always active in sports growing up and I now realize that while I was in shape, I wasn't as fit as I could have been. In the last few years as my weight up, so did the pain in my knees. As I've made working out and strength training part of my fitness routine, I have found I have less problems with my knees. I can do weighted lunges and squats, something I never could do before. I don't run for many reasons, but I've found lately when I do, it's not my knees protesting.

For me, taking it slow and building up all my other leg muscles has helped immensely in making my knees stronger. Report
Weight bearing exercise such as walking hurts my knees terribly, especilly if the ground is hard. Bicycle riding hurts at first but quickly the pain goes away. This has discouraged me from taking longer walks. My Dr. says I also have spurs in my knees in addition to mild osteo so maybe that has something to do with it. Report
i have brought a Fitness Mini Exercise Bike. it is good for your knees
I found my knees hurt from running if I'm using bad form. also when I was very out of shape muscle strength wise. once I strength all the muscle in my legs, abs, and back I have not had painful knees since. the best route take it slowly to benefit in the long run. Report
I have had a problem with one knee since I was 14. I shattered the knee cap and dislocated the knee several times. As an adult, it really started giving me problems after we moved into a two story. However, the pain receded as time went by. As a walker, I experiences 2-3 months of pain and swelling in my knee. Now that the weight is starting to come of, I notice the strength I am getting in my knee. I can now walk comfortably for about 4 miles. On occasion, I will experience some problems, but it is getting better with time. Report
seated leg lifts (see spark exercises) strengthened my thighs so my knee pain went away. but i still need to be careful. especially sitting back (not forward) during squats. Report
At 155kg plus, (two years ago) I felt as though a pin had broken off in my knee; following a medical consultation I was shocked to find that I had osteoarthritis at the tender age of 47. Change was and is difficult, but 2 years later I exercise daily - sometimes up to two spinning classes a day. Do I feel pain? very occasionally I feel a grumble that does not last...the quality of my life is better with the condition that it ever was without it because of the lifestyle changes that I was forced to make. Exercise worked for me. Report
Running gives me pain in my knees, along with weakness and giving out. This has been going on since I was 13 years old. I have been diagnosed with patello-femoral pain syndrome. Other exercises do not cause the pain as long as I don't jump too much. Low-impact exercise helps the pain. Report
Sometimes I will do other videos for exercise,I like SparkPeople.com with Coach Nicole. Because my knees hurt to sometimes.Instead of doing 30min at a time 10 min.is good too. Report
I could not run for most of my adult life due to sore knees. I would begin an exercise programme and then injure my knees, especially by cycling.
Finally about 4 years ago I began weight training on machines at curves. It was very gentle & slowly I found I had NO pain. I am no longer at curves, joined the YMCA, but last year I became a runner! I am currently training for my first 10 k. Report
It has helped me. The less weight I carry the less stress on my knees. My main exercise is walking / jogging. Report
I have had some knee problems in the past (kneeling on cemenet floors at work) but I haven't had any serioud probs (THANK GOD) but my knees started bothering me whrn I started riding my statinary bike and I went to my GP and he said for me to ice them its just my knee cap so I kept going forgot to ice them !! :) But they seem to be working it out on their own don't hurt much but sometimes they make noises like my cracking of knuckles. Report
My entire left side has been rebuilt from a car accident and I have many artificial parts.I use a treadmill everyday for 2 miles,in a walk/jog but I use the sides to help take off the pressure on my leg when it hurts with my arms while walk-jogging and yes,the exercise helps me. Report
I'm still figuring out what helps and what aggravates my knees - started exercising seriously last October. Walking was fine, but during the winter with a stationary bike and aerobics videos they got worse. Now I'm using a Gazelle for indoor cardio, and strength-training the supporting leg muscles at the gym. And my doctor told me to only do aerobics involving the legs every other day, which surprised me. Report
I have read that for every pound you loss it is like 3-5 pounds off your knees. Also that cracking sound of some on the sight do you get enough omega 3's in your diet. I know for me i was diagnoised with fibromyelgia in 2003 i find riding bike and any pool exercise is great on my knees to long on the tread mill and I am hurting for a week. But i can walk for miles. For some reason the tread mill is not for me. Report
Gosh, knees! I have so many problems with my knees and I've just been told over and over again that it's knee cap tendinitis and that I need to start things "slowly." The problem is, I am always exercising so why does a hike all of a sudden land me on the couch for weeks? It is so frustrating. I've only had these knee problems from about 23 until now (27). Even going to physical therapy didn't seem to help. I feel like I just can't use a treadmill or do squats because they wreck my knees every time I try, but supposedly squats are what I need to be doing... so, oye.

The comments make me wonder if there is something more than tendinitis going on in my knees. It's just so horrible to worry all the time that I'm going to "give myself" tendinitis. And I wish this article was way longer and offered more information.

Oh, and losing 20 pounds didn't help me avoid tendinitis or improve my knee cap health. Report
I have a bit of arthritis in my knee from a sports accident back in high school and the added weight of course didn't help. But when I don't exercise or stretch, my knees feel worse! Exercising has helped improve other areas of my body so that my lower half is no longer bearing the brunt of carrying my weight, especially the core work that has strengthened my back. Report
i've been a runner for years and can't count the times that non runners have told me i'm going to ruin my knees! now i've never had any knee pain, but i have suffer from pains in my hips, for more years than i have run. i've had x-rays and mris and there is evidence of osteoarthritis, and i can tell you this, my hips feel infinetly better when i am on a consistent running program than when i am feeling lazy and am inactive. so i will continue to run, the way i see it, the benefits outweigh any "risk" to my knees! Report
I can't run because of my back. I stand stooped over. But I can ride a stationary bike. I have one that moves your arms at the same time. Love this bike. I am trying to decide if I want to have both hips replaced or not. When I get on the bike, It hurts for a few minutes but then it gets easier as I ride. I do believe it has helped alot. Not sure when I will decide to do this surgery, but if I can put it off by riding, I will. Now if I could figure out some good exercises for stretching out my flexor tendons, I would be set. Report
my knees hurt. had surgery on the one knee. I use a exercise bike.. I still think if you over work your body you will damage it in the long run....I do believe you should do some kind of exercise but just dont over due. We all need to listen to what our bodies are telling us. I dont care what this artical saids. Report
I have OA and currently seeing therapist to get my legs stronger and to help the pain. The therapist has me doing strength exercises and stretches that has helped and wow what a big notice..I hardly have any pain and now able to walk 2 miles without pain, before I was only able to walk 1/4 mile. Keep exercising and
do all your stretches daily don't stop.
Never have had knee problems. I was always slim until I was 41, so guess I didn't wear them out early on. Report
I have only just started to jog, I most likely will never be a runner. I want to do my first 3K & 5K this year. I do have to be careful because of some medical problems but my doctor thinks it is doable if I take my time and be careful. AT 55 and having RA, Fibromyalgia and Lupus, I am hoping for the best. Report
Nope: the more I exercise, the more my knees hurt. I have injured one knee twice in the past and am recovering from bilateral runner's knee. It's sad to say, though, that they only time they've consistently NOT hurt has been in the 2 weeks post-op back in Dec. when I wasn't allowed to exercise at all. The minute I started up again, so did the pain. :( Report
I think the kind of exercise is very important. I have found that water exercise works very well for the knee because it is virtually impact-free. Most other exercise causes pain in my knees since I have arthritis. Report
I'm with lalizarde it doesnt clear the confusion Report
Seems like a Catch-22 to me.

Renie Report
My husband had a knee surgery couple of years ago. He finds exercising regularly really helps him. Report
since suffering a torn meniscus last summer and having surgery, i still have a little pain in my knee and i am very reluctant to try squats and other exercises putting much pressure on the knee...i even feel some cracking and aching in it when i use the stair climber, but i am pushing on thru.... Report
I could never run well even as a child. I do walk but I have knee problems (I think they are genetic as both my dad and my paternal grandmother had to have knee replacements). I use a brace when I walk but my preferred exercise is swimming. I do notice I hurt more when I don't exercise so I keep going. Report
Running doesn't bother my knees at all. In fact, It has improved my whole life - my mood, my asthma, and even my arthritic hip. I feel like running is the fountain of youth! Report
Personally, I find running does make my knees soar, but the next day or two they seem fine. Report
When I first started walk/run, my knees hurt badly, so I would bike and other exercises. After losing 10 or so lbs, I noticed that my knees had stopped hurting. Actually if I don't run now, I notice I hurt a lot. It seems the more weight I take off the less my knees bother me!! Report
I don't think this article really clears up the confusion. Report
Knee problems since I was late teens (now late 50s) - and it's always helped by appropriate exercise and plenty of water. Report
YES! It's night and day. Getting the weight off and walking have given me new legs! Report
I'm with Carolee1945. I also ruined my knees running. Some of us just aren't built to run, so I walk now and enjoy it whether in a group or by myself. Report
My knees are totally finished due to severe osteoarthritis. I'm waiting for knee replacement surgery. In the mean time, I think it is important to exercise, and try to keep the surrounding muscles strong. I do some pool exercises, yoga, and ride my bike, as much as I can...which isn't a lot, lately. Report
I have been a runner my whole life and had a severe bout with reactive arthritis (an autoimmune form of arthritis triggered by a virus) in my 20's. I had severe joint swelling and inflammation in my knees but as I gradually improved with anti-inflammatory's, running was a huge factor in my recovery. Running decreased my stiffness and strengthened the muscles surrounding the knee joint. I'm 48, still running and have never had a knee injury since. Great article! Happy running everyone! Report
I have had a lot of knee problems in the past, but I do feel like they have gotten stronger now that I am exercising! Report
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