Running does Not cause Arthritis. A Physio’s opinion.
Have you ever gone for a run and asked yourself Will Running cause Arthritis in my knees? Surely the heavy pounding of the roads must cause damage to the knee joints. All that increased load (5-7 x body weight) through the body must wear down the joints.
What about if you’ve been diagnosed with arthritis of the knees, running must surely be a definite no go.
Well as a physiotherapist with a keen interest in all things sporty I thought I’d weigh up the evidence to figure out what the science actually tells us.
What does the research say about arthritis and running?
At the start of my search of the literature I was pleasantly surprised to find so much evidence suggesting that arthritis is not necessarily caused by hitting the road. Here are a few highlights from the research:
- Sitting increases your risk of arthritis more than living an active lifestyle (Alentorn-Geli et al. 2017)
- Running can protect against arthritis and help you avoid surgery (Timmins et al. 2017)
- If you have had a previous injury to your knee then you may be more at risk of osteoarthritis but the results of studies are not conclusive and out dated (Cymet and Sinkov. 2006)
- In some Elite long distance runners there is an increase in arthritis that shows up on x-rays but there are NOT any increases in symptoms like pain or stiffness (Cymet and Sinkov. 2006)
- The main take away from the research is that Running as a hobby DOES NOT increase your chances of arthritis, especially if you have never had a previous injury (Alentorn-Geli et al. 2017)
What does common sense say about arthritis and running?
As a professional Chartered Physiotherapist with experience working locally as a Lisburn Physio and with a BSc Honors degree in Applied Sport Science, a history of sprinting competitively at Scottish National level and experience coaching at a district level my thoughts on this topic are based on both clinical experience, personal experience and scientific research.
The main point of interest here is whether there is pain while you run:
If you’re in Pain then running is a different Game
- Seek professional help to determine if more pounding will aggravate the injury
Knee Arthritis on an x-ray does not mean you’ll never run again
- It is common to have degeneration of your knee, in-fact most people will have degeneration that shows up on an x-ray at some point in their life. Whether you can run will depend on your range of movement, your strength, whether there is pain, if you can jump on two legs or on one leg. By following a specifically designed rehabilitation program to gradually increase the amount of loading through your knee then it is possible to return to running again.
Pain in your knee does not necessarily mean you’ve got arthritis
- You could have a muscle, ligament, tendon, nerve or a joint injury: get it checked out to see what injury you’ve got to your knee
You can still run if your knee sounds like Rice Crispies (popping and crunching)
- If it crunches/ pops or clicks but there’s no pain then you can probably still continue to run but it’s best to get it checked out just in-case there’s an underlying bio-mechanical deficiency that may need addressed
Your technique matters
- Certain running techniques increase the stresses through the outside and inside sections of the articular cartilage and meniscal cartilage of the knee. This can increase your chances of developing osteoarthritis/ degeneration of the knee.
- Most running techniques can be addressed through certain stretches/ exercises/ drills. Check out the Running Physio Tom Goom’s website and Kinetic Revolution James Dunne’s website for some helpful top tips about running technique
Timmins et al. 2017. Running and Knee Osteoarthritis: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Volume: 45 issue: 6, page(s): 1447-1457. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0363546516657531
Hutchinson. 2017. Knee Arthritis Has Doubled… And It’s Not Because of Run. Runners World. https://www.runnersworld.com/sweat-science/knee-arthritis-has-doubled-and-its-not-because-of-running
Cymet and Sinkov. 2006. Does long-distance running cause osteoarthritis? The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16790540
Ebert. 2001. The Joint Myth: Running and the Risk of Osteoarthritis. https://www.runnersworld.com/injury-treatment/osteoarthritis-in-runners
Alentorn-Geli et al. 2017. The Association of Recreational and Competitive Running With Hip and Knee Osteoarthritis: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Journal of Orthopaedic Sports Physical Therapy. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28504066