If you suffer from severe or chronic joint pain, then it’s likely you’ve already had to scale back running or quit altogether. While a knee replacement can certainly increase your quality of life, it doesn’t mean you can go right back to pounding the pavement.
What You Can Do
Most doctors agree that running isn’t a great idea after a joint replacement. My advice to patients is to enjoy alternative lower impact forms of exercise. If you like cycling, swimming, yoga, Pilates, or the elliptical just as much as running, then do those instead.
What You Can Try To Do
If you absolutely love running and need it for your mental and physical health, then by all means give it a shot. I would encourage you to run faster for shorter periods of time. An example would be a “run-walk” where you run at a pace that they could sustain for 30–60 seconds, then walk until you recover. If your replaced knee or hip bothers you during or after a run, then it is clearly not a good idea for you. The same goes for tennis, skiing, and other high-impact sports.
While the human body was brilliantly designed to respond to physical stress by getting stronger, a knee replacement is a mechanical implant that has no remodeling capability. Therefore, its lifespan is determined by the amount of wear and tear it endures, much like a car tire. Running is a high-impact activity, and it will wear out a replaced joint faster than if you limit yourself to moderate- or low-impact activities. However, modern implants are typically expected to last 20 years or more.
The reason to have a hip or knee replacement is to improve your quality of life. So, if you are a happier person with an occasional run or singles tennis match, by all means do it. You may wear your replaced joint out a little faster, but I have been replacing hips and knees for over 20 years, and I don’t recall having to revise a worn-out hip or knee implant in a runner or tennis player.
Dr. Tabor is a fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeon specializing in hip and knee replacement with a particular interest in unicompartmental arthroplasty (partial knee replacement). He sees patients at OrthoSouth’s Memphis-Primacy Parkway and Bartlett clinics.