BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB-TV) — In less than two weeks thousands of runners will hit the streets for the Buffalo Marathon. Western New York has a strong and growing running community. But will all this running lead to physical problems down the road?
“I just ran a 32 mile Ultra (Marathon) on Sunday, took a couple days off and I’m back out here again today,” said Youngstown runner Tom LePage just before the start of the Flatliner 3 mile Race in Chestnut Ridge Park last month. “How are your knees? They’re wonderful, they don’t hurt at all.”
Almost every runner has heard warnings about what they could be doing to their knees.
Andrea Krah, a runner from Lancaster says, “People tell me all the time oh, be careful of your knees. Ten years from now you may not be walking or you’ll need a knee replacement.”
Dr. Michael Freitas, a sports medicine specialist with UBMD, knows about knees. “And I get asked all the time from patients…’hey, I want to run, am I going to hurt my knees by running?'”
“The best data we have says, probably not. Is it going to give you arthritis? Probably not.”
In fact, Dr. Frietas says recent studies show running may actually be beneficial for your knees, provided you start with healthy knees and follow some guidelines.
“If you have a knee that has some arthritis in it, you may want to think of less impact activities as a way to stay fit.”
Dr. Freitas says first and foremost: Get in Condition. Prepare your body. Experienced runners know it takes time.
“A lot of delicate pacing, building your base, not going out too hard, not going out too fast, taking adequate rest,” says McKenzie Higgins, a runner from Cheetowaga.
Dr. Freitas also suggests: Get the Proper Footwear. Get a fitting from someone with experience.
He says: Choose Good Running Surfaces. Something with give to it is far better than concrete. You want your knees to last.
Ted Sullivan of Williamsville, who is 85 years old, says his knees feel pretty good provided he keeps his feet straight.
That’s in line with Dr. Freitas’ recommendation: Use Good Form. The way your foot hits the ground can make all the difference.
Steve Gonser is a physical therapist, partner in Buffalo Rehab Group, and runner, who works with clients who want to improve their form and decrease their chances of injury.
“We want to take them away from the traditional way that runners like to run, which is a heel\toe type mentality,” says Gonser. “Instead if we can get them to come through, point the foot straight ahead and actually land on a soft knee, it takes the force of landing and spreads it out over a longer period of time and definitely takes that force away from the knee.”
Gonser, who has run numerous marathons, says it’s just not true that running ruins your knees.
“There’s been plenty of studies that show people who run are at no more risk for knee injury than people who don’t run,” says Gonser.
And he points to what he calls the three biggest threats to healthy knees: previous surgery or injury, not enough activity and obesity.
One study from Brigham Young University finds that sitting (inactivity) is substantially worse for knees than running.
So Western New York is on the move with runners who are determined to keep lifting those knees and running away from trouble.
“I feel better running,” says Buffalo runner Heather Burger who competed in 200+ races last year. “I finally told myself, I want to keep moving and when I moved I felt better and I’m still going”
“I’ve been on both sides,” says UBMD sports medicine specialist Dr. Michael Freitas. “I’ve been the patient and that’s part of what led me to become the doctor who can now help people try to exercise and enjoy their life.”
“I’m the only person we know that’s never taken a Motrin,” says 74 year-old Jamestown runner Mac Mackenzie. “No Motrin, no Aleve, no Advil, none of that stuff. Well, I just keep running.”