Fact or fiction: Running causes arthritis…

Published: 08 Jan 2021

Fact or fiction: Running causes arthritis…

Running is a popular form of physical activity. People run because they enjoy it, it’s convenient and it’s a great way to maintain cardiovascular fitness. Despite its popularity, there is a common belief that running leads to an increase in the wear and tear of knees. But is this really true? This blog will explore the research behind the relationship between running and knee arthritis.

Are there health benefits to running and exercise?

Yes. We have previously written about the benefits of exercise (often). We also have bogs about exercise and Parkinson’s Disease, exercise and cancer how to do strength training and many related topics.

The benefits of exercise apply for running as well as other forms of physical activity and can include:

  • ↓ the risk of cardiovascular disease
  • ↓ the risk of cancer related mortality
  • protection against neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease
  • ↓ hypertension
  • ↓ cholesterol levels
  • improvement in blood glucose levels
  • ↑ bone mineral density
  • improvement in mood

What is arthritis?

Knee osteoarthritis is a form of degenerative joint disease which is categorised by a loss of joint cartilage.  Cartilage functions to allow our joint to move smoothly. Osteoarthritis can occur after trauma or overuse, thus explaining why people call it “wear and tear”.

Some of the changes you may see with knee osteoarthritis – but it is important to remember that these do not mean that you will have pain.

Why do people believe that running can cause arthritis?

Since arthritis can be caused by overuse, the belief comes from the repetitive motion and impact which the knee sustains during running. The research reports that the knees experience anywhere between 6-14 times body weight each step throughout a run. Thus, explaining why people believe running can cause arthritis.

What does weight bearing and load actually do for our knees and the cartilage?

The research suggests that:

  • weight bearing exercises may prevent or delay the onset of knee arthritis
  • loading the knee joint is safe and beneficial for people who are suffering or at risk of knee arthritis – but appropriate periods of rest and recovery to allow the body to adapt to any activity are really important
  • excessive weight bearing and immobilisation can reduce joint cartilage activity and that doing the opposite of these 2 can increase joint cartilage activity
  • exercise can stimulate cartilage healing but excessive harsh exercises can cause damage or degenerative changes
  • moderate doses of physical activity could slow down cartilage degeneration in middle aged people with early arthritis

This is all great news for anyone who is suffering from early arthritis, or for those people who are at risk due:

  • a history of trauma
  • a history of overuse.

(If you would like more information about our healthy knees program go here to find out how you can improve your knee health)

What does the research say about the relationship between running and arthritis specifically?

  • A history of leisure running was not associated with increased odds of prevalent knee pain, symptomatic arthritis and radiographic arthritis
  • Some runners had less knee pain

A meta analysis found a 50% reduction in need for surgery due to arthritis in runners

  • A study found that running recreationally or at a moderate level does not cause or worsen arthritis
  • Running at recreational level was associated with lower likelihood of hip or knee arthritis compared with competitive runners and sedentary non-running individuals
  • Non runners had a higher risk of joint degeneration compared to recreational runners
  • Competitive elite long distance runners who do high mileage of 92km/week have increased risk of arthritis compared to moderate and recreational runners
  • A study found that low and moderate intensity running had a chondroprotective effect which is not seen in long distance high level runners

What should I take away from this blog?

  • Running has various health benefits and is encouraged
  • Running is safe for your knees if done correctly – gradually increase distances and frequency. Make sure you have sufficient rest and recovery and include a good strengthening program as part of your exercise regime.

The statement – Running causes arthritis is…..FICTION

If you are experiencing knee pain, come see a physiotherapist at The Healthy Body Company so we can help with the pain and get you back on track.

If you would like to learn more about our Healthy Knees Program – go here.