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Does running increase the risk of Osteoarthritis in the Knee?

Blog written and presented to you by Clinic Manager Jason Dodd and member of the Physiotherapy Department at Bodylogics The Sports Therapy Clinic.

Running has long been a popular sport and we have wrote many blogs on running and its benefit’s.  Running now has millions of participants worldwide and has become an integral part of many people’s lives.  The reason for its popularity is most likely due to it being convenient and time efficient, many of us can just put a pair of trainers on and step out of our front door and be running immediately.  Running also has a number of health benefits which also add to its appeal.  In fact, runners have a 25-40% reduced risk of premature mortality and will live approximately 3 years longer than non-runners.  This is supported by this study here

Despite there being so many potential health benefits, running is frequently suggested to be associated with negative long term impacts on the health and state of our knees.  Arthritis is commonly associated with long distance running and can lead to fear avoidance of this particular sport/activity.

Isn’t running bad for your knees?  This is a question we often get asked in Clinic and it’s a simple answer…..NO!

With the repetitive nature of running you can understand why people have come to this conclusion.  It makes logical sense that the more you impact something the more you will gradually wear it away.  HOWEVER, there is a growing body of evidence that show running, at least at the recreational and social/amateur level, is not linked with the development of knee osteoarthritis. See the links here for reference. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Does running increase the risk of Osteoarthritis in the Knee? Bodylogics

In fact, running has been shown to do the complete opposite.  This study here reported that a history of recreational running was associated with a lower prevalence of knee OA (3.5%) compared with sedentary individuals (10.2%).  At the same time, the same study showed that runners with a long history of running (greater than 15 years) at a high competitive level (ie, elite international running) may only have an equivalent risk of developing OA as a non-runner (13.3%).  It is worth noting here that these ‘elite’ athletes are likely to be covering, on average, 150 miles each week at the peak of their training.

So it appears that running at a recreational level, up to and including marathons, may in fact have a PROTECTIVE effect against the development of knee OA, whilst long exposure to high volume/high intensity running may increase the risk of knee OA development.  Finding this ‘sweet spot’ though of the perfect amount of intensity and mileage is yet to happen but this gives us a framework to work within.  What is also of importance to note here is that there are many other pre-disposing factors that can lead to the development of knee OA.  These include your age, diet, heavy occupational workload, etc….

BUT what if you already have knee OA? Is it ok to start running?

To date, there is not an awful amount of research to suggest confident guidelines to determine whether an individual would be creating further damage to a knee already diagnosed with OA.  However, one study did examine the effects of continued running on the pain and disability associated with knee OA and concluded that self-selected running in individuals of at least 50 years of age does not appear to accelerate the progression on knee OA.  In fact, runners with knee OA demonstrated more improvements in knee pain compared to non-runners but it was not determined whether this was due to changes in the knee biology or changes in how people managed their symptoms better.

To summarise, research confidently concludes that running is not bad for your knees and that running actually INCREASES THE HEALTH OF THE KNEE and function in the long term.  The ideal amount of running remains unclear and will be investigated in the future but for now, don’t hold back with your running programme and remember each run you do is a step towards encouraging healthy knees.

Why have we wrote this blog?

We are committed to delivering the best service possible to our clients and our ethos is centred around trust and education.  We offer many services which our clients can take advantage of but the real passion lies in giving each of our clients the empowerment to leave our Clinic’s safe in the knowledge that they understand what is happening with their bodies and how they can best manage themselves. We are here to help whenever that does not go according to plan but we hope that everyone who visits us does so knowing that they will get the best care and advice available.

To book with us and have us assess any injury or concerns you may have then please either call us on 020 8368 9220 or click on our contact page here to be directed to our email messaging form. 

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