Does Long Distance Running Cause Arthritis?

bone and joint health Mar 12, 2019

 

I often get this question - does running cause arthritis?

In general, physical activity is important in maintaining your health. Many people falsely believe that running can cause arthritis but research show that this isn't necessarily true.

In reality, walking, running or strenuous exercise can significantly decrease risk of any knee osteoarthritis. Doctors are still trying to understand how running can improve knee arthritis, with continual research studies.

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis caused by trauma or overuse of joints. Any of your joints can be affected, but the knee is the most common.  Knee arthritis occurs when the cartilage that covers the surface of your joint (also called hyaline cartilage or articular cartilage) becomes progressively worn away, eventually leaving the raw bone beneath exposed. Under normal conditions the cartilage is even slicker than a hockey puck on ice, but once the smooth covering wears away the result is a rough joint surface that causes the pain and stiffness that people associate with osteoarthritis.

Now, I feel if you already have osteoarthritis, with symptoms, my advice is to exercise with low impact activities. This includes swimming, cycling or yoga to lower risk of arthritic flare-ups.

So, who usually gets knee arthritis?

There is no one single cause - arthritis is multifactorial. That means multiple factors are involved. The risk factors that may increase the probability of getting arthritis include:

  1. Genetics - arthritis can run in families.
  2. Posttraumatic - a history of severe trauma or injury to the knee.
  3. Obesity - being above a healthy body mass index is associated with arthritis of the knee.
  4. Autoimmune conditions - conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis can cause arthritic changes in the joint.
  5. Infection of the joint - an infection can cause damage to the joint that results in arthritis.
  6. Age - our joint surfaces age just like the rest of us, and while not everyone gets arthritis with age, our joint cartilage has less of a capacity to heal itself as we age  

But, if you don't have arthritis at baseline, and you're interested in running, you can go for it (provided your doctor doesn't feel you have any medical reasons not to).

Here are a few considerations if you're going to take up running:

- Consider working with a trainer, to make sure you have proper form.

- Take it slowly and listen to your body.

- Use a baseline for your pain level, if it worsens then take a few days off.

- Use the proper supportive footwear.

- Choose forgiving surfaces to run on.

- Remember a proper warm up and cool down

- Balance your exercise regimen with a mix of cardio, strength, flexibility and mind-body. Even within the cardio category, remember to mix it up with different types of cardio.

If you are concerned about the health of your knees, remember to discuss your symptoms with your primary care physician or orthopaedic surgeon.

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