If you are a runner, whether competitive or out to enjoy the fresh air at some point someone has probably shown an interest in your habit. Even asking incredulous questions like; Why do you do it? Even in the rain? Do you enjoy it? Then just as you think the conversation has run its course, they deliver the punchline; running isn’t good for you, it gives you arthritis!
For years there has been uncertainty if running or other impact sports cause or predispose you to arthritis. Certainly if you had a diagnosis of arthritis the advice you would have received was stop running, start swimming or cycling, only exercise as pain allows, don’t push it.
So what’s changed? Arthritis has become a big focus of research over the last 10 years, but let’s start at the beginning; what is arthritis? There are a number of types of arthritis. Most of the time people are referring to osteoarthritis. This is where the normally smooth and slippery cartilage that helps the joint to glide becomes thinner and rougher. The bone underneath then tries to repair this damage but can overgrow altering the shape of the joint.
Does running predispose us to arthritis?
It certainly makes sense if we repeatedly pound the pavements the cartilage we land on over and over again gets a battering. However a longitudinal study (1) of 74,752 runners concluded “Running significantly reduced Osteoarthritis and hip replacement risk due to, in part, to running’s association with lower Body Mass Index.” A more recent study (2) has further backed this up and found no evidence that running increases the risk of osteoarthritis, including participation in marathons. The runners in the study were found to have a lesser risk of developing arthritis than people who were less active. In fact if you sit at home and avoid physical activity you are four times more likely to get osteoarthritis. (3)
Our body is made up of living tissues that are constantly rebuilding themselves. Not only that, but living tissue actually grows stronger when it is used. Applying a stress force to a joint will stimulate repair of the cartilage, so running doesn’t make our cartilage “wear out” it stimulates “wear and repair.” One thing that does keep coming up is not to run through a long standing injury. This is largely due to changing our biomechanics of running to reduce the injury related pain. (4) This often leads us to shift our loading patterns, causing wear in a different place to how the body is used to experiencing it. This has been found to be a risk factor to osteoarthritis if prolonged. So stepping back, cross training, reducing the mileage and focusing on form may be of value for a longer term reason that simply nursing your injury back to full fitness.
Need help with your injury? Please give us a call. All of the team are runners, so we understand you won’t want to stop running. Often you don’t have to! But if you leave things to fester over 3 months they do take longer to get them fixed, so if after a month you aren’t running like a gazelle you usually are get some advice!
In a nutshell the answer to the doubting bystander is simple; research has found running is really good for you, reduces the risk of arthritis, and improves fitness so reduces the risk of diabetes and heart issues, helps control our weight and keeps us sane! And offers a perfect excuse to dress in Lycra!
- Effects of running and walking on osteoarthritis and hip replacement risk. Williams PT1. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2013 Jul;45(7):1292-7
- Low Prevalence of Hip and Knee Arthritis in Active Marathon Runners DY Ponzio et al. J Bone Joint Surg Am 100 (2), 131-137. 2018 Jan 17
- Osteoarthritis and obesity: a report by the Arthritis Research Campaign http://www.arthritisresearchuk.org
- Muscle dysfunction versus wear and tear as a cause of exercise related osteoarthritis: an epidemiological update British Journal of Sports Medicine. Shrier I (2004) pp 526-535