Running with arthritis and achy joints seems like an impossibility, but lacing up your running shoes may be exactly what you need to ease your pain and boost your energy levels. In fact, the Arthritis Foundation recommends that people with arthritis strike up an exercise routine, debunking the popular myth that running is bad for your knees.
However, you should take some precautions. Running with arthritis involves running on softer surfaces, along with incorporating strength training, flexibility exercises and cross-training such as swimming. Because your mileage depends on the severity of your arthritis, consult with your doctor before ramping up your training schedule.
Run on softer surfaces. Concrete is approximately 10 times harder than asphalt, so skip the sidewalk and instead run on the road, if it's safe. Running on even softer surfaces, such as grass, dirt, trails or a synthetic track, reduces the amount of stress and shock placed on your musculoskeletal system and joints. When you switch to a more forgiving surface, watch your footing. Some softer surfaces demand an increased range of motion from your foot and ankle.
Strength-train a few days per week. Strong muscles disperse the impact force running creates around the joints and allows the body to absorb more shock, thereby reducing soreness and stiffness in the joints.
Perform both isotonic and isometric exercises. Isotonic exercises such as dumbbell curls and squats strengthen the muscles by moving the joints, whereas isometric exercises such as planks and side bridges strengthen the muscles without moving the joints.
Add in flexibility exercises. The Arthritis Foundation recommends incorporating 15 continuous minutes of stretching and range-of-motion exercises that strengthen and relax stiff muscles every day. Options for flexibility exercises include Tai Chi and yoga. Tai Chi, originally a Chinese martial art, is particularly effective in reducing pain and injury for people with severe knee osteoarthritis.
Supplement your running with cross-training. On days when your joints flare up, advance your aerobic fitness, increase your mobility and strengthen your muscles with less-intensive activities such as swimming, cycling, walking and yoga.
Cross-training on days you rest from running also revs up your metabolism, helps you stay at an optimal weight, decreases your fatigue and keeps your heart healthy.