The Effect of High Impact Exercise on Knee Health

The Effect of High Impact Exercise on Knee Health

(Last Updated On: April 16, 2019)

The Effect of High Impact Exercise on Knee HealthHave you ever heard someone say they don’t exercise because it’s bad for their knees? Many people are of the belief that high impact exercise increases their risk for knee problems, especially osteoarthritis of the knee. It’s true that people who played certain types of sports involving torsional or twisting movements of the knees or who have a history of knee injuries are at greater risk for osteoarthritis of the knees, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that moderate amounts of high impact exercise is bad for your knees. In fact, there’s some evidence that it may protect against knee osteoarthritis.

 High Impact Exercise and Knee Osteoarthritis: Is There a Link?

A study published in the journal Rheumatology addressed this issue. Researchers looked at the cumulative number of hours over 800 men and women presenting for knee surgery for osteoarthritis had participated in over their lifetime. Not only did moderate amounts of exercise not increase their risk for knee osteoarthritis, it had protective benefits. Men and women who had exercised regularly over their lifetime were less likely to be diagnosed with severe knee osteoarthritis compared those who were more sedentary.

Other studies also show moderate amounts of exercise and recreational sports protect against osteoarthritis of the knees. One study found that female physical education teachers who were physically active on a regular basis over many years had a lower risk of knee osteoarthritis, while another study showed people who walk regularly are less likely to suffer from painful knees due to osteoarthritis.

Even runners who run recreationally on hard pavement don’t seem to be at higher risk than the general population based on the results of some research. A study published in the Annals of Rheumatologic Disease found that recreational runners had no increased risk of osteoarthritis.

A twenty-year study conducted by Stanford University on distance runners found that runners’ knees were healthier and less arthritic than the control group that didn’t run on a regular basis

A study by Skeletal Radiology on Marathon runners over a ten year period found no new knee damage and concluded that running might even be beneficial to knee joints. As with most things, moderation is key.

Another study published in the Official Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine looked at changes in knee anatomy in more than 10,000 people who played sports recreationally and competitively using MRI imaging. Although they found a greater incidence of bone spurs in those who had exercised regularly, there was no narrowing of the joint space to indicate significant osteoarthritis. In fact, participants who had exercised had less cartilage breakdown than those who were more sedentary. This again suggests that exercise may help to preserve knee cartilage.

How Exercise Improves Knee Health

One way exercise improves knee health is by strengthening the quadriceps muscles. Strengthening the quads helps to prevent the progression of osteoarthritis of the knees and reduces pain in those who have it. According to research published in the World Journal of Orthopedics, both high and low-intensity aerobic exercise improves knee pain and functionality in people with osteoarthritis. Resistance training does too by strengthening the quadriceps muscles. Research shows that women with stronger quads are less likely to develop osteoarthritis of the knees. Exercise seems to not only reduce the risk of osteoarthritis – it treats the symptoms.

Another way regular exercise protects your knees is by reducing your risk for obesity. Obesity is a major risk factor for osteoarthritis of the knees. Maintaining a normal BMI definitely works in your favor when it comes to the health of your knees.

It’s also believed by some doctors that in the same way, high impact exercise increases bone and muscle mass it may also help to increase cartilage strength and prevent cartilage loss with age.

The Bottom Line?

High Impact exercise may not be as bad for knees as previously thought and may even be good for your knees. In fact, regular exercise may offer some protection against osteoarthritis by strengthening knee cartilage, the quadriceps muscles and by helping with weight control. Though high impact exercise is often blamed for causing knee problems there are other factors that are more likely to cause osteoarthritis. If you have osteoarthritis, talk to your doctor before doing high-impact exercise but high impact exercise in moderation appears to be beneficial for those that don’t suffer from severe osteoarthritis.




Rheumatology. Volume 40, Issue 4. Pages 432-437. (2001)

Clin. Orthop. 261: 242-6.

Ann. Rheum. Dis. 55: 692-4. (1996)

Official Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine. “What Is the Effect of Physical Activity on the Knee Joint? A Systematic Review”

World J. Orthop. May 18: 2(5): 37-42.

Arthritis Today. “Exercises to Strengthen the Knee and Relieve Pain”

Arthritis Today. “Strong Quadriceps Protect Women’s Knees from Pain”


Related Articles By Cathe:

What’s the Best Type of Exercise to Prevent Knee Osteoarthritis?

Are Women at Higher Risk for Knee Problems?

The Surprising Factor That Increases Your Risk of Knee Arthritis

How Your Joints Age & What You Can Do to Slow It Down

Knee Health: Are You at High Risk for Knee Osteoarthritis?

How Exercise Affects the Health of Cartilage That Lines Your Joints

Indoor Cycling for Fitness: 5 Reasons to Try a Cycle Workout

15 thoughts on “The Effect of High Impact Exercise on Knee Health

  1. I’ve been exercising since I was 14 and I used to be a runner. At the age of 30, I had to quit running because of osteoarthritis of the knee. I was told to not run, only do the elliptical or stationary bike and avoid high impact workouts. Well, while I don’t try to run anymore, I can do all of Cathe’s high impact workouts, Cross Fire and To The Max are two of my most favorite.

  2. I think its established that exercise does not CAUSE knee arthritis, but once you do develop arthritis, low impact exercise is better than high impact. And there is the pain factor-if my knees hurt doing high impact, its not a fun type of exercise for me.

  3. Yes, once you have osteoarthritis low impact alternatives like our Low Impact series or cycle videos are usually recommended. However, many people incorrectly blame and perceive exercise, especially high impact exercise, as the reason for all of their knee problems. Osteoarthritis is caused by many factors including normal wear and tear over time from daily activities and aging. Though there are not any good studies on home exercisers doing aerobics that we are aware of, there are quite a few studies done on runners regarding the effects of exercise on knee health. In fact exercise, seems to reduce the chances of getting osteoarthritis and lack of exercise is probably more to blame for knee problems than is any type of exercise. Still, this is something we would like to see more research on, especially concerning home indoor exercisers.

  4. There really are lots of factors that play a role in joint health, genetics being only one of them.
    Thank you for clearing up the misconception!

  5. I, too, appreciate this article. I thought that good, solid and safe exercise would do more to help prevent arthritis and this confirms it. I believe if we are predisposed to get it, we will, not because of exercise.

  6. I do have osteoarthritis in my knees (at age 58) and I recently had to give up training to run a marathon due to pain in my knees. If it hurts, I can’t do it! However, I continue to do all of Cathe’s high and low impact workouts (sometimes modifying) and don’t have a problem. I think it has to do with the long endurance runs which I can’t do. An hour workout with Cathe is perfect! Which is another reason I love Hiit and circuit workouts – my knees don’t mind these type of workouts – and I can still get all the benefits of exercise (staying fit, manage my weight, being healthy) in a relatively short amount of time, without suffering the long distance endurance runs. Another great reason for home exercise, especially circuit workouts!

  7. Another great myth buster, Cathe. As I’ve aged (just turned 49) I notice a few more aches and pains. I’m glad to know that I’m not hurting myself by retaining some of the higher impact fitness workouts that I love so much. I think it’s important to know the difference between a “good” pain and a “bad” pain and to have created a solid foundation of fitness before adding too much impact. You’re a winner. Keep up all your amazing work.

  8. Many fitness instructors do not thoroughly offer valuable information on the necessity of using the right fitness shoes while doing high impact exercises, which involve lots of jumping. Not wearing the proper shoes during high impact workouts will eventually damage the cartilage which again leads to osteoarthritis. It is the responsibility of fitness instructors to offer basic information on what type of shoes to wear during high impact workouts. This information is by no means “common knowledge”, as there are still many people out there who think that using any kind of sports shoes is enough for high impact workouts. This dangerous misconception about fitness shoes is unfortunately not addressed by the majority of fitness instructors at the beginning of most high impact workout videos.

  9. I once had a doctor tell me not to do high impact and told me to quit doing step aerobics at all because my knees are wonky (official diagnosis there). I love step too much to quit that so I tried to take it down a notch but didn’t quit. Then I ignored him completely by taking up martial arts as well as running; I haven’t had any X-rays since then or anything, so this is only anecdotal evidence, but I also haven’t had much pain and I rarely get the crackling noises I used to get all the time just walking up stairs.

  10. I am a 60 years old fitness instructor and P.T. and have been both for 27 years. I teach total body, fitball, BOSU and weight training, Tabata…. I cycle and i use to run, BUT i had arthoscopic surgery 2years ago due to a freyed meniscus. NOW i am scheduled for a full knee replacement april 10th.due to “sever arthritis” as well as loss of cartilage, inflamed IT band and spurs. I was told by Dr. that due to my age and life style this was the result.
    All my workouts i teach come from Cathes DVD’s since i first started purchasing these DVD’s years ago. My classes love them.
    I am disappointed in all this but i will keep some classes and now move into aqua. Cathe what do you recommend?

  11. Great information here! I am 50 and have had both my knees replaced. I played sports my whole life and ran for many years. I also ran around in silly high hells for many years. At this point I can do anything except run. I believe that all this started for me way back when I was a teenager. It started with small tears and just continued to rip as the years went by till I had no cartiage left. I was also told that it could be hereditary but no one else in my family has been affected. When you think about most people with knee problems are older and out of shape. However this was not my problem. I am just so happy that I can participate in all of Cathe’s videos without pain.

  12. Hi, a friend of mine telling me that they’d read something similar to this recently and I couldn’t believe it. Unfortunately as a sport veteran one of my knees is a mess and I can no longer run or play sport but this is good news especially for those that use it as an excuse. Funny enough my knee problem is the same as ‘marypd’ but I’ve not gone down the route of a knee replacement.

  13. Jogging can leave my knees sore, but I’ve never had trouble from doing Cathe’s high impact dvds, maybe because they’re not just repetitive movement. And they’re way more fun. High impact is great for strengthening bones and burning calories, so it’s good to read that it isn’t death to your knees.

    I’m looking forward to the Lean Legs and Abs DVD – a workout with quads emphasis is perfect for those of use who love high impact.

  14. I had have been having severe back pain for the last 5 years ago. It came out of nowhere. Actually I had been through the worst divorce in history (LOL, now!), but I had been a hard core Cathe workout girl for years!! Now, I was on really strong pain pills and 2 MRI’s confirmed my back looked like a truck ran over it. I had gone through major depression, stopped taking care of myself and my teeth. I ended up with several cavities and was told I could never exercise again. Well, I got my teeth started on, and became extremely sick because of an unknown horrible abcess!! I could have died if my partner had not caught it in time! The salt warm water rinse went straight to my back nerve and had me screaming for about 5 minutes of unbearable pain. That was over a month ago. I am now doing Cathe’s Low Impact workouts and have started her XTrain series. Last week I walked all around the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, yes!! I am slowly weaning myself off of my pain pills, and yes, I do have a little knee pain, BUT NO BACK PAIN!!! Where did it go?? I have no idea, but the back pain is gone, the knee pain is just from exercising after not taking care of my body for a good 7 years and lot’s of mental stress. Every workout I do, the knee pain is slowly, and sometimes faster, going away. We can put a man on the moon, but as an ex-RN, we know so little how the human brain works in conjunction with the body and giving us that good healthy feeling. I feel like I am a walking and jumping miracle!!!!

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