Running May Protect Against Osteoarthritis, Research Shows


During the interview portion of a patient’s first session, questions are asked attempting to relate the patient’s current painful state to a mechanism of injury.   This gives the clinician insight into many things, but most importantly how to progress with the exam.

Almost daily, I hear statements such as, “I think my knee hurts because I played sports all my life and that is why they are bad” or “I was a runner when I was younger and that is how I got arthritis, just too much wear and tear on my joints.”  High intensity exercise, particularly running which is an activity that involves repetitive loading, is widely thought to predispose individuals to degenerative joint disease (osteoarthritis) especially in the joints of the lower extremity.

The purpose of this post is to inform the public that the assumption of running and repetitive exercise increases the risk factor of developing injuries is not supported.  The fact of the matter is that there is no direct relationship between running and osteoarthritis (OA).  In fact, a recent study suggests that physical activity such as running may decrease the risk of developing OA.

The data included 2,683 participants, 56% were female, the average age was 64.5 years and the average body mass index was 28.6. Of the participants, 29% reported they ran at some time in their lives.

The researchers concluded that, “runners, regardless of the age when they ran, had a lower prevalence of knee pain, ROA and SOA compared with nonrunners. For people who had run at any time in their lives, 22.8% had SOA compared with 29.8% of nonrunners. People who had the lowest BMI scores were the most likely to report being habitual runners, the findings showed. Regular running, even at a nonelite level, not only does not increase the risk of developing knee OA but also may protect against it.”  

The authors did offer one limitation to their study.  They stated, “This does not address the question of whether or not running is harmful to people who have pre-existing knee OA,” Lo said in the release. “However, in people who do not have knee OA, there is no reason to restrict participation in habitual running at any time in life from the perspective that it does not appear to be harmful to the knee joint.”

Another interesting component that was not included in the study was how well the participants ran or whether the authors would suggest optimal running technique and/ or economy would protect against knee pain and joint degeneration.  In other words, does technique matter?

Our philosophy will always be to move well first and then move often.

Either way, this is good news for runners and exercise enthusiasts alike.  However, if pain is present an individualized program based on a thorough movement and running analysis is essential to get you back on course (or the road)!




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