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Sports Medicine

Treadmill affects on the knees?

05/30/2000

Question:

I`m 46 years old and currently jog on a treadmill to maintain weight loss and to stay fit. I keep the treadmill with an incline to burn more calories. I am concerned about long term affects on the knees. My mother had both knees replaced in her 60`s. My father now in his seventies complains about knee pain. Is having the treadmill on an incline worse on the knees than keeping it flat? Is fast walking less wear on the knees than jogging? Should I just do what I want until some pain starts?

Answer:

In answer to your first question, "Is having the treadmill on an incline worse on the knees than keeping it flat," I am not aware of any studies in the literature that address this question. Running on inclined surfaces alters your body`s natural center of gravity, so if anything, it may add increased stresses to your lower back. What is probably more important with regards to running and knee problems is the type of surface on which you run. Harder surfaces (such as treadmills and paved streets) can cause greater forces to be absorbed in the knee, which can lead to knee injuries. A suggestion would be to try to run on a soft surface, such as a track or a golf course, at least part of the time. Properly fitted shoes with good shock absorption can also take some of the stresses off of the knees. Fast walking is easier on the knees, since the impact forces are less.

In response to the second part of your question - it is known that there is a genetic link in families with arthritis of the knees. That is not to say that you will need knee replacements at the same time your mother had her knees replaced, but you are at a higher risk of developing the condition. As far as what you can do about it - there are a few things that you can do now to help prevent the development of arthritis in your knees.

Muscles have three functions: movers, stabilizers, and shock absorbers. Because of the ability of muscles to absorb shock from activities such as running, I would suggest a good knee strengthening and conditioning program to supplement your running. Emphasis should be placed on the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calf muscles. Some studies have been done to see if glucosamine and chondriotin sulfate, two supplements with claims to help people with arthritis, actually work. A recent study in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) showed a modest improvement in pain with using these supplements, but it is not known yet if these supplements have a preventative effect. I hope this information helps.

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Response by:

Chris M Amann, MD Chris M Amann, MD
Clinical Faculty, Team Physician
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University