Myth Busting: “Does running cause joint degeneration”?

Am I able to run? Is running bad for joint health? Will the stress from running put my knee joints at a higher risk for developing knee osteoarthritis (OA)? Many people ask themselves these questions when deciding if running is a safe recreational activity to participate in. This has been a highly controversial topic for many years amongst those in the running community.  

Let’s start by discussing what running does to the cartilage in your knee joints. The cartilage in your knee joints help to provide cushion, support and absorption when you are in a loaded position or activity. There is often a misconception that the more you run, the more you wear down this cartilage and it’s protective benefits. Although long distance running has been shown to decrease cartilage volume immediately after a run, there is also evidence to suggest that the cartilage has potential to recover very rapidly (~1 hour after a run) to the original volume (1). What does this ultimately mean? The cartilage in our knee joints has the ability to adapt to the stress of running and can actually make the cartilage thicker and stronger over time (1). 

Now let’s look at long term exposure to running and whether this translates to degeneration or osteoarthritis at the knee joint. A 2017 meta-analysis looked at the prevalence of hip and knee OA in competitive/elite runners, recreational runners and non-runners living a more sedentary lifestyle. The prevalence of hip and knee OA was 13.3% in competitive runners, 3.5% in recreational runners and 10.2% in non-runners (2). This suggests that recreational running may help prevent hip and knee OA. This sounds like good news for the average runner! 

What do we make of all of this information? Running can help strengthen and nourish the cartilage of the knees and may have long term benefits on preventing degeneration. This means, if you love to run and are able to do so without pain, continue running! In pain? Find your nearest healthcare provider (who happens to be a running enthusiast) to get you back on your feet as soon as possible.

Written by:

Casey Goheen
Registered Physiotherapist, MPT, MSc, BSc
Allan McGavin Sports Medicine Physiotherapy at Twist (North Vancouver)

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Bio:

Casey is a Registered Physiotherapist at Allan McGavin Sports Medicine Clinic in North Vancouver. Casey received her Masters of Physical Therapy degree from Queen’s University, following a Masters of Anatomical Sciences and Bachelor of Science from Queen’s University.

As a long distance runner herself, Casey has a passion for treating running related injuries and promoting safe rehabilitation back to sport. Casey has a special interest in working with young athletes and recognizes the demands of high level sport in this population. Casey is also GLA:D (Good Life with osteoarthritis in Denmark) certified and enjoys working with those experiencing hip and knee osteoarthritis get back to the things they love to do! As a SportMedBC InTraining Clinic Run Leader, Casey is committed to helping you stay injury free, train to perform your best, and achieve your running goals!

 

References:

  1. Kessler, Markus A., et al. "Recovery of the menisci and articular cartilage of runners after cessation of exercise: additional aspects of in vivo investigation based on 3-dimensional magnetic resonance imaging." The American journal of sports medicine 36.5 (2008): 966-970.
  1. Alentorn-Geli, Eduard, et al. "The association of recreational and competitive running with hip and knee osteoarthritis: a systematic review and meta-analysis." Journal of orthopaedic & sports physical therapy 47.6 (2017): 373-390.

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